The University of California, Berkeley has plans for a five-pronged effort to increase diversity on campus, according to a letter from Chancellor Carol Christ. "I know that some members of our community feel we talk a good game about improving diversity, but haven't backed up our words with appropriate actions," she wrote. "I agree that we have work to do, and that time is relatively short."
In announcing the Undergraduate Student Diversity Project, Christ said that even with a state ban on affirmative action and other federal legal and political initiatives that limit its power, UC Berkeley has slipped backward while other campuses in the system have become more diverse.
The plan includes an improved K-12 pipeline and outreach to help enroll more underrepresented students. The plan also aims to ensure admissions policies are fair and to remove financial barriers to enable more students to attend.
Colleges have undertaken efforts to improve diversity on campus for decades, but progress is often lost and such initiatives have become contentious — and seem to be under threat today, advocates say.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly upheld affirmative action since its implementation, the Trump administration has sided with legal efforts to challenge it and has taken action to diminish Obama-era efforts to promote diversity. In addition, advocates are concerned Trump's appointment of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court might mean it will rule against affirmative action if a case reaches the bench.
California's 1996 affirmative action ban has reportedly had the biggest effect on UC Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles, the system's most selective universities. At UC Berkeley, the share of freshmen from underrepresented minority groups fell from 23% in 1995 to 11% in 1998 and went up slightly to 16% in 2012, according to a 2015 report.
While Christ pointed out that efforts to broaden the mix of students at the university in other ways have not been successful at UC Berkeley, other institutions have tried to maintain diversity in the student body without using race as a factor.
Texas, for example, implemented its Top Ten Percent Plan (TTPP) about two decades ago after its affirmative action policies were challenged. The plan allows students in the top 10% of their high school graduating class to gain admission to public colleges in the state. Although the TTPP has created a pathway for underrepresented students, one study found it tends to benefit white female students the most.
However, researchers have found the best way to achieve diversity on campus is to combine race-conscious and race neutral admissions and recruitment policies.
Even when diversity goals are achieved, measuring them is a challenge. Some experts are concerned that too often higher education defines diversity simply by enrollment numbers for minority students, and suggests it should include other factors. Cornell University, for example, has developed "diversity dashboard" that examines the composition of a class, engagement, inclusion and achievement.