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Universities can consider race in student admisison

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | DECEMBER 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa officials support recently released federal guidelines that would allow colleges to take ethnicity into account in admissions.

The guidelines, published earlier this month by the Departments of Justice and Education, would permit universities to implement ethnicity-neutral initiatives — such as increasing admission from a certain geographical area or socioeconomic class — to boost minority enrollment.

The Obama administration's new guidelines would replace guidelines set during George W. Bush's presidency, which disallowed any consideration of ethnicity in college admissions.

UI Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge said she is "very excited" about the change and looks forward to see it develop.

"I don't know what exactly will happen [at the UI], but I think this is an excellent step in the right direction," she said. "To me, this indicates that our government is fully accepting of the fact that we are becoming an increasingly diverse nation."

Khin Mai Aung, the director of the Educational Equity Project at the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said ethnic isolation is a big problem in K-12 schools that are currently more segregated than they were 20 years ago.

"These guidelines are crucial at providing public schools and colleges a road map to combat the harms of racial isolation and promote the benefits of diversity," Aung said.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the guidelines still must be discussed by the state Board of Regents, which would then consider policy changes that will be implemented at the three state universities.

"In general, Iowa is a fairly homogenous state," Moore said. "So the level of diversity in the pool of high-school graduates is very limited. So the university works very hard to attract and retain students from minority backgrounds as much as possible."

The university's efforts appear to make a difference. Minority enrollment at the UI increased from nearly 9 percent of the student population in fall 2001 to nearly 12 percent of the population this fall. Additionally, international enrollment spiked from 7 percent of the students to more than 10 percent during that time.

But not everyone is on board with considering ethnicity in admissions.

Shane Vander Hart, the editor at the conservative blog Caffeinated Thoughts, said he believes admission shouldn't be based on ethnicity.

"Universities should pursue merit-based admissions," he said. "That is how you get the best students. I think it is insulting to minority students who may be fully capable of getting in on their own merit."


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