The Coming Realignment on Diversity
The smart money assumes that in the next few months when the Supreme Court issues their ruling in the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas there will be a major realignment in what is legal for affirmative action at colleges and universities.
At the beginning of March, the NYT published an article about liberals who secretly, or not so secretly, acknowledge the need to some adjustment. Count me among them: Regardless of how virtuous have been schools' affirmative action initiatives over the past 30 years, it is a scandal that today, at top universities, there is such a large preference based on skin color and none based on socio-economic status. The reason for this is not nefarious: especially at the top schools, there is a bright line drawn between admissions and financial aid. Institutions do not know a candidate's economic status when making an admissions decision and therefore have no way to take it into account. It will be fascinating to watch colleges re-structure their admissions practices so that moving forward they can deliberately recruit students from different classes and not just races.
From the perspective of marketing messages the re-alignment is not going to be difficult. Colleges will no longer speak about recruitment for racial diversity as an end in itself. They will now make the argument that education for our new globally-interconnected world requires students to learn to navigate difference – difference that includes ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, sexual preference, and, of course, socio-economic status.
We have already begun to test this new messaging for our clients in both admissions and fundraising contexts. The fact is, it is extremely well-received. Recruitment for racial diversity as an end in itself has always been more controversial than the elite colleges like to admit. The new messaging receives a much wider favorable response and shows a clear positive way forward
The hard work will be re-engineering the processes at colleges to incorporate socio-economic diversity into the mix. The goal, however, is widely agreed upon. Personally, I am eager to get started. It will be an enormous, and overdue, step forward for higher education in this country.