We know how to foster greater diversity in the student body, because some public universities have done so. When the University of Texas, Austin, started to admit the top 10 percent out of every high school graduating class in the state in the late 1990s, he created pathways for schools in historically more disadvantaged communities to send students to this flagship university.
Over the next decade, the number of high schools in Texas that graduated from 674 to 900. Once on campus, these students achieved levels similar to all other students. This program increased the income of these students without significant damage to those who have been ‘kicked out’, in terms of graduation rates and earnings, according to a 2020 discussion paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
I know firsthand as a white man that diversity improves the education of every student. I grew up in Houston, graduating from one of America’s most diverse high schools. With no racial group exceeding 36% of the population, students tended to develop a sense of cultural humility, an understanding that their worldview was just one perspective among many. It’s hard to learn this lesson in some of our elite public universities when the black population is extremely small.
One possible explanation for the decline in the number of black students at these institutions is that tuition fees have increased significantly in many colleges during and after the 2008 financial crisis to compensate substantial reductions in state funding per student. (The pandemic’s toll on state tax revenues poses a new risk to the funding of public universities.)
There are ways around this problem. Louisiana State University, which faced severe cuts after the recession, was still able to increase its black student body. One effective strategy was to recruit students from every parish in Louisiana.
Studies have shown that one of the most powerful levers for colleges seeking more diversity is to offer financial assistance more suited to needs. To this end, University of Kentucky in 2016 announcement a major shift in the way it distributes financial aid, committing to ensuring that the majority of funds go to aid as needed. This fall, Auburn, which ranks last among top 50 public universities in terms of meeting the financial needs of its undergraduates, increased their own need-based assistance to freshmen by $ 2.4 million to a total of $ 3.5 million , as well as the expansion of scholarship opportunities.
Increasing aid as needed was one of the recommendations of a school task force set up last year to tackle racial disparities. Auburn says he has also started using the common app to reach a larger population and piloted a program that places less emphasis on test scores in admissions. There are some evidence that deviating from standardized test results can increase racial and economic diversity.