Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on race-conscious admissions, colleges such as the University of Toledo are looking into whether the decisions could have broader implications for scholarships and financial aid that target minorities.
UT recently formed a group dedicated to examining the issue as a subcommittee of the university s commission on diversity.
“We re trying to be proactive,” said Alan Goodridge, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and enrollment services. “If we can continue to do what we do, I think probably we will.”
UT, whose admissions were not affected by the court ruling because it does not take race into account, has 21 scholarships with diversity criteria distributing $550,000 to 350 students this year.
The high court didn t address such scholarships and other aid - often intended to help recruit minority students - when it examined admissions policies at the University of Michigan and its law school in June. In those cases, the court decided there is a compelling interest in using race-conscious policies to promote diversity in education.
But the justices said diversity cannot be defined exclusively in terms of race and that students must be treated as individuals. So the court struck down a point-system Michigan used on the undergraduate level that gave underrepresented ethnic populations extra points.
Opponents of racial preferences like Roger Clegg, general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Virginia, argue that this part of the decision should block minority-only programs.
“If you have a program where you are absolutely barred from participating if you re white or you re Asian or you re some other race, then you re not getting individualized attention,” he said.
Mr. Clegg sees possible implications for summer programs and internships targeting minorities as well. The center has contacted nearly 100 universities asking them to open up their programs to everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity.
Nationally, some schools - including Williams College, Indiana University, and Carnegie Mellon University - have opened minority scholarships to all races since the Michigan decisions.
Michigan itself hasn t gone in that direction so far, according to Pamela Fowler, director of financial aid.
“The changes we ve made have been minor,” Ms. Fowler said. “We focused more on substantiating why we do what we do.”
Ohio State University, which like Michigan has dropped a point-based undergraduate admissions system and adopted one more reliant on essays, has expanded some scholarships so minority status is one of a number of factors considered.
“We ve broadened [them] so that minority status may be included but isn t exclusively considered,” said Tally Hart, OSU director of student financial aid.
Ms. Hart said less than 10 percent of the university s scholarships were affected. In most cases, officials included economically disadvantaged students regardless of race.
Bowling Green State University didn t need to make admissions changes because it does not take race into account, and it hasn t made any changes to its scholarships, arguing that those targeting minority students are just part of an array of financial aid opportunities.
“We re not doing anything differently,” said Gary Swegan, BGSU s director of admissions.
Diversity in higher education remains the compelling goal behind those scholarships, Mr. Swegan said. “Right now, we think that the ruling allows us to continue to do that. What the future will bring I don t know.”
Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education in Washington, said adjusting scholarship programs involves a delicate balancing act between donors, students, and faculty.
In the end, though, he is confident that any changes won t be to the detriment of qualified minority students.
“Changing minority-specific scholarships to a diversity scholarship may in many instances be only cosmetic, because institutions will meet any existing gap for qualified students,” he said. “Somehow, I think they ll find a way.”