Last year, a combined 1.1 million undergraduate students were enrolled at public flagship institutions—universities established to educate residents of their states, says The Hechinger Report. These institutions often receive the most state funding from residents’ tax dollars, have the most resources, produce the highest graduation rates, and are home to powerful alumni networks that connect students to good jobs.
However, the student populations at these institutions do not reflect their state’s proportion of Black or Latine high school graduates, and education advocates fear the Supreme Court’s decision to end race-conscious affirmative action policies will further widen those racial gaps, according to The Hechinger Report.
In 14 states in 2021, there was at least a 10 percentage-point gap between the proportion of public high school graduates who are Black and the proportion of Black first-year students enrolled in the state flagship. Black students were particularly underrepresented at flagships in southern states. In 2021, 48% of Mississippi high school graduates were Black, but only 8% of first-year students at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), the state’s flagship, were Black. Eight of the 10 flagships with the largest gaps between the percentage of first-year year students who are Black and percentage of state public high school students who are Black did not consider race in admissions in 2021.
In 12 states, there was at least a 10 percentage point gap between the proportion of Latine students who graduated from state public high schools and the proportion of Latine first-year students enrolled at their state’s flagship. Only four of those 12 states previously considered race in admissions. Flagship universities in the Southwest showed some of the largest gaps. The University of California, Berkeley, had the largest disparity in Latine student representation, at 34 percentage points.
Some experts say the Supreme Court ruling ending race-conscious affirmative action in college admissions will further widen racial gaps that flagship universities were already struggling to narrow. The University of Texas at Austin, which considered race in admissions and had reduced its racial gaps in the last five years, still has the second biggest gap for Latine students in the country at 23 percentage points. At seven of the 18 flagships that have race-conscious admissions policies, there was still a gap of 14 percentage points or more between the percentage of Black or Latine students who graduated from their state’s public high school in 2021 and the percentage who enrolled in the flagships that fall.
Officials at the University of Maryland tell The Hechinger Report the end of race-conscious admissions will make their efforts to ensure the university’s student population reflects the state’s demographics that much harder.
“We remain committed to recruiting and retaining the most diverse classes possible,” Shannon Gundy, assistant vice president at Maryland, said in an email to The Hechinger Report, “but will not lose sight that this fact remains true: when pursuing the most diverse and talented class, there is no proxy for considering a student’s race.”