Several Ohio college admissions officials say minority groups, including blacks, Latinos and American Indians, remain underrepresented on their campuses.
And their numbers would likely drop, they said, if the U.S. Supreme Court forced public colleges and universities to stop considering race as one of many factors when making admissions decisions.
"This isn't about percentages or quotas, but giving us the tools to have a critical mass of minority students," said Michael Kabbaz, Miami University's associate vice president for enrollment management.
The last time the Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action was in 2003, when it upheld the University of Michigan Law School's limited use of racial preferences but overruled a numerical system used by the undergraduate school. The court ruled that race could be used as one factor among many, as part of "holistic review," which is what all of the Ohio schools contacted yesterday say they do.
But though they're allowed to consider race when making admissions decisions, Kabbaz said, many schools still have a lot of work to do to boost their minority-student numbers.
In 2003, minority students made up 9.8 percent of Miami's undergraduate population, he said. Today, they comprise just under 12 percent -- a gain over 2003, but still low, Kabbaz said. It's a starker picture for African-Americans, who represent only 4.5 percent of the total student body.
It's taken Ohio State nearly a decade to make up for the drop in minority-student numbers after the Michigan case, despite increased recruiting of talented minorities, said Dolan Evanovich, OSU's vice president for strategic enrollment planning.
Ohio State has joined hundreds of universities and other groups that have come to the defense of the University of Texas' use of affirmative action by signing a friend-of-the-court brief.
In their brief, OSU and nine other public research universities argue that students from diverse backgrounds learn from each other and go on to become leaders in the community. The schools also warned that the court should not tread on their "academic freedom," which is grounded in the First Amendment and allows them to choose "how to implement their institutional missions."
Diversity isn't just about increasing minority numbers, Evanovich said. Ohio State has been working to attract more inner-city, international, low-income and rural students, as well as those who would be the first in their families to go to college.
Ohio University also has been targeting older adults and those living in Appalachian parts of the state, said Candace Boeninger, OU's assistant vice provost and director of undergraduate admissions.
"Having a diverse student body helps our students think more critically and broadly," she said.
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