Press Release

Statement: University of Texas Admissions Ruling a Wake Up Call for CUNY

David R. Jones

On Tuesday, judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s consideration of race as one of many factors in college admissions decisions.  The case had been remanded to the Fifth Circuit by the Supreme Court in June of 2013, which asked the lower court to determine whether the use of race fit within the higher court's narrow allowance of its usage.

The Fifth Circuit not only affirmed that the Texas policy was limited enough, the decision also stressed the importance of using mechanisms to increase diversity at selective college campuses, particularly at public schools representing diverse communities: “U.T. Austin has demonstrated a permissible goal of achieving the educational benefits of diversity within that university’s distinct mission, not seeking a percentage of minority students that reaches some arbitrary size.”

Here in New York City, the City University of New York (CUNY) has a mission to combine access to higher education with academic excellence.  Yet it is falling short of the former goal--as we have documented, the numbers and share of black and Latino freshmen at CUNY senior colleges have dropped precipitously since the recession.  CUNY's senior colleges do not consider race, family background, neighborhood, or any other socioeconomic factors in their admission decisions.  Nor does CUNY employ any of the non-race based tools that universities such as Texas have employed with the support of both sides of the political aisle, such as the plan allowing the top ten percent of students from every high school into selective public colleges.  As a result, CUNY's Baruch College has a lower percentage of incoming black freshmen than Harvard.

CUNY continually cites high rates of diversity in its system of colleges.  But the truth is that black and Latino students have been rapidly moved into community colleges, which have the lowest rates of advancement and achievement.  And this is happening while the quality of black and Latino student applications has actually improved.  Further, it has never been more difficult for these students to transfer into a CUNY senior college--today, just 1/3 of transfers into these schools come from CUNY community colleges.

The Community Service Society calls upon CUNY to develop admissions procedures that offer real opportunity to all New York City high school students.  As Texas, Harvard and other schools have shown, there are many ways to increase diversity and maintain high standards of academic excellence.  This could include a percentage plan for the best students from each high school, and an admissions policy that looks at more than just numbers in each student's application.  We would be eager to join with stakeholders from across the City in develop policies that allow New York City high school students some of the opportunities enjoyed by their peers in Texas.

Issues Covered

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