KANSAS CITY — Some major public colleges in Missouri and Kansas say a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action won't affect their efforts to recruit minority students because race already is not a factor in admission standards.
However, increasing diversity on campus by recruiting more minorities remains an important goal, according to officials at MU, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University.
The Supreme Court ruling in June didn't forbid considering race in admission but said schools must prove there are "no race-neutral alternatives" to achieve diversity on campus.
"I think that any public research institution that is using race as a factor in admissions needs to go back and review what they are doing," said Mel Tyler, vice chancellor of student affairs at the UMKC. "There are plenty of qualified minority students out there. Race should not be a factor."
Generally, students who meet basic criteria for admission at the schools will get in, The Kansas City Star reported.
In Kansas, the requirements are at least a 2.0 grade point average, a 21 ACT score or rank in the top third of a graduating class. In Missouri, residents who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and meet the 17 core curriculum requirements can get in regardless of standardized test score. But the lower the class rank, the higher the test score needed for admission.
The schools generally encourage minority students to apply and then allow all applicants who meet the criteria to enroll. Changing demographics make those efforts important. By 2030, Missouri and Kansas students now considered a minority will make up 50 percent of the population, Tyler said.
Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students at Kansas State University, said the Manhattan school concentrates on recruitment, rather than selection. The university recruits students in areas with large populations of first-generation and minority students and then offers them financial assistance and academic support to help them graduate.
"K-State is an output school, not an input school," Bosco said. "We are not spending time on selection, but we are spending time showing students how they can be successful once they get here. We don't just throw them in the pond and hope they swim."
The University of Kansas also coordinates several recruitment events each year to target minority students, said office director Lisa Pinamonti Kress, and has a team of current students who write, call and meet prospective students.
At MU, admissions director Barbara Rupp said improved recruitment has led to increased minority enrollment in the past 10 years — including looking for qualified students in Kansas City, St. Louis and out of state, particularly in Chicago.
First-time black freshmen on the Columbia campus increased from 209 in 2002, or 5.6 percent of the student body, to 657 last year, more than 8 percent of the student body. The number of new Hispanic freshmen increased from 70 in 2002 to 232 in 2012.
At Kansas State, the number of minority student applicants has increased from 918 in 2007 to 1,554 in 2012. And at UMKC, enrollment of black, American Indian, Asian and Hispanic students has increased 77.5 percent increase in the last 10 years, Tyler said.
In Missouri, residents who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and meet the 17 core curriculum requirements can get in regardless of standardized test score. But the lower the class rank, the higher the test score needed for admission.
Diversity remains important
Rupp said minority enrollment has grown over the past 10 years thanks to beefed-up recruitment efforts, including looking for qualified students in Kansas City, St. Louis and out of state, particularly in Chicago.
“We got smarter and more proactive in the state of Missouri,” Rupp said.
In addition to the increase in enrollment of African-American freshmen at MU, admission of other minority groups also increased over the years. The university admitted only 70 new Hispanic freshmen in 2002 but 232 in 2012.
Jim Rawlins, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the only time race might come into play when admitting students at most public schools is when a student’s academic profile falls a bit shy of the automatic acceptance criteria set at public colleges.
Schools admit a limited pool of students who don’t meet all the academic criteria but have other qualities that would make them a good addition to the student body, Rawlins said.
Academic probation helps
At the University of Missouri System’s four campuses, for instance, 10 percent of students can come in on academic probation. He said diversity might come into play when schools fill those slots.
Rupp said the system’s schools consider extenuating circumstances, like a death or divorce that might have knocked a student off track academically during their high school years.
“We look at whether a student was working a lot of hours to help the family meet ends, and many times those students are from minority groups,” Rupp said.
But Rawlins said that since the Supreme Court sidestepped a decision about affirmative action in the University of Texas case and tossed it back to the lower courts, it left a lot of room for higher-education officials to interpret varying meanings from its action.
Justices didn’t say all consideration of race in admission is wrong. For some, Rawlins said, that means “an institution that wants to use race in admissions would have to be able to withstand close scrutiny.”
What concerns Rawlins and other admission officials is that some minority students might misinterpret the court’s ruling and decide not to apply to certain schools or even attend college fairs.
“Our first challenge now is to clear up the misconceptions about admissions and get students to come to these events,” Rawlins said.
And what bothers him most is what has not been a prominent part of this discussion, he said, “that very capable minority students face horrible stigma that they got into college because of their race rather than because of their academic excellence.”