The trial underway to determine whether Harvard University's admissions policies unfairly discriminate against Asian American students is expected to reveal how the elite institution and others like it select their incoming classes, according to The Washington Post. Factors such as test scores, race and ethnicity, and legacy admissions are of particular interest.
Harvard, known for its low acceptance rate, claims its student body has become more diverse in recent years. Out of the 2,000 students admitted for the 2018-19 academic year, 17% are first-generation college students and 20% qualify for federal Pell grants. Data show admission rates for fall 2015 were 8.2% for African American applicants, 6.8% for whites, 6.4% for Hispanics and 5.7% for Asian Americans.
However, court documents found ties to the university still matter, with 34% of legacy applicants admitted from 2009 to 2015 compared to 6% of non-legacy applicants. Children of donors were admitted at a rate of 42%.
The Harvard case has the potential to reach the Supreme Court, which has only narrowly preserved the affirmative action policies in question over the past four decades. Most colleges don't consider race in admissions. Those who do tend to be elite and highly selective.
Those same institutions traditionally have been closed-mouthed about their admissions policies and procedures. With the future of affirmative action uncertain, legal scholars say those colleges should begin to consider race-neutral approaches even though they say it's the most straightforward and cost-effective approach to achieving diversity on campus.
Institutions working on initiatives to expand diversity on campus have had mixed levels of success in achieving it.
For example, New York's Cornell University has implemented diversity dashboards to measure the effectiveness of diversity efforts. The framework measures four core principles: the racial composition of students, faculty, and academic and non-academic staff; student engagement with campus resources based on factors such as race, sexual orientation, gender, social class and political orientation; measurements of how much students feel included on campus; and the enrollment tendencies and graduation rates of students by race and ethnicity.
Samuel Museus, a professor of education studies at the University of California, San Diego, told Education Dive that efforts to improve diversity on campus can take time and require constant attention. "The problem is that these other values, such as acquiring more resources and prestige, often take priority over inclusion or equity efforts," he said, "which become a secondary superficial priority at best and forgotten by many members of the institution at worst."