• IDRA Newsletter • March 2003

For more than 150 years, many children in this country have been victims of inequality in schools. Some attended segregated and unequal schools, while others were forced to attend classes in school districts that had substantially less money available for education than did their counterparts in wealthier communities. Too often this has led to limited opportunities for students to enroll in post-secondary education, leaving most colleges and universities with significant under-representation of Hispanic and African American students and faculty.

After the civil rights efforts of the 1960s, many colleges began to embrace the value of a student body that mirrors the great diversity of this country. Research has indicated that diverse work and management teams are among the most productive as the varying perspectives of their different cultural groundings and experiences are folded into the development of ideas and products.

Affirmative action is critical to providing educational opportunities to qualified minority students. In fact, much of the progress we have made in reducing income and employment gaps between minority and White individuals is the direct result of affirmative action programs that have opened access to colleges and universities. Affirmative action is the reason that persons like Colin Powell, Raul Gonzalez and others, achieved their distinguished status.

Furthermore, today’s workplace demands that we have an educated workforce. A system that prepares a limited few may have been fine for an agricultural economy, but it is no longer adequate in our high tech work environment. In order to compete globally and to succeed economically, we need dramatically higher numbers of well-prepared college graduates than ever before. The U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century actually called this an issue of national security, “The scale and nature of the ongoing revolution in science and technology, and what this implies for the quality of human capital in the 21st century, pose critical national security challenges for the United States” (2001).

Recent events in Washington, D.C., however, appear to be providing those who oppose diversity in higher education settings a rationale to actively promote the re-segregation and elitism of colleges and universities throughout the country.
Many people involved in expanding access to higher education to all students have expressed their serious concerns that 200 years of discrimination cannot be offset by less than three decades of slow and, in many cases, lukewarm attempts to increase the range of students represented on college campuses. In Texas, we saw that many of these same institutions crept at a snail’s pace to expand opportunities for all students during the last 30 years, but, after the Hopwood vs. The State of Texas decision, most responded immediately to signals suggesting they could return to exclusionary strategies.

In recent years, some states have embraced percentage plans guaranteeing admission to students based on high school rank. But according to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Harvard Civil Rights Project, these plans have failed to significantly increase minority enrollment at state universities. Such plans also depend on states maintaining segregated high schools, a condition that flies in the face of long-standing efforts to desegregate schools in the United States.

The broader question centers on whether we should use limited criteria – such as a student’s single test score – to make life-altering decisions, or should we move to a more comprehensive approach that considers multiple factors that have a bearing on any student’s prospects for success in higher education and thereafter. Some states and communities have demonstrated that using multiple indicators enhances not only the racial and ethnic diversity, but also the social and intellectual diversity of their student bodies and faculties.

Perhaps the solutions lie in changing from a perception of exclusion to a vision of inclusion. This would lead us in new directions. No longer focusing on who is deemed most deserving of college access, we would instead create innovative ways to include more students, diverse students, for the benefit of all. We would also be more deliberate about making sure all of our younger students graduate from high school and that they do so prepared for college success. Universities would work closely with their communities to generate new ideas for meeting these challenges.

We at the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) are dedicated to working with people to make schools work for all children. We do so because all children are valuable. Their future is our best legacy.

Resource: U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, 2001) http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/nssg/PhaseIIIFR.pdf.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]