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The Decline of the Diversity Imperative? Enrollment Trends Among Colleges Voluntarily Abandoning Race-Conscious Admissions

Tue, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, 404


The "diversity imperative" in higher education refers to the perceived need for institutions to enroll racially diverse student bodies in order to maintain their status in the field. Scholarship on elite institutions has identified the rise and persistence of this imperative since the 1970s. Yet researchers analyzing a larger sample of institutions have identified a surprising decline in the proportion of schools claiming to consider race in the admissions process, with the majority of the decline consisting of schools voluntarily abandoning the practice absent any legal mandate. We analyze enrollment trends at 380 competitive colleges and universities that voluntarily abandoned the use of race-conscious admissions policies. We find that the presence of race-conscious admissions was associated with a small but significant increase in Black enrollment for more competitive institutions, but (counterintuitively) a small decrease in Black enrollment for less competitive institutions. This finding suggests that race-conscious admissions function differently in different segments of the field, and that the diversity imperative may not hold equally for all institutions.


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