The 14 campuses of Pennsylvania's public college system are considering a plan to increase minority enrollment by offering admission to the top 15 percent of every high school graduating class in the state.
The proposal, which is being discussed by a 30-member planning commission that will report to the system's board of governors, closely follows recent admission policies adopted in Texas and Florida that replaced affirmative action plans.
In contrast to those plans, the Pennsylvania plan would continue using existing affirmation action system.
Adoption of the plan in Pennsylvania would mean that students in some urban high schools who ordinarily would not be admitted because their grades were not high enough could qualify because they were in poorly performing schools and did well compared with their classmates.
The proposal would not apply to the top-level state-related institutions, which are not part of the system and have their own, higher admissions requirements: Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University.
The institutions in the system that are considering the program are in the state's second tier, former state teachers colleges that have been upgraded over the years to state university status. They are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester State Universities.
Kenn Marshall, the spokesman for the 14-campus system, said minorities accounted for 8.5 percent of the system's 95,000 students, as compared with 11 percent to 12 percent minorities in the state's population.
Marshall said the 15 percent plan was one of several proposals to increase minority representation that were being considered by the planning commission. That commission of business and community leaders is to submit its proposals to the board of governors in July for final decision.
The board is made up of the governor, the secretary of education, four members of the state Legislature, 11 appointees of the governor and three students with full voting rights.
Consideration of the move by the state college system, which was reported recently on the Internet page of the Chronicle of Higher Education, represents another attempt by American colleges to address the question of how to increase minority enrollment without using programs specifically aimed at underrepresented racial groups.
In some of those cases, such as those in Texas and Florida, there have been protests from minority groups that their representation would be reduced through new laws eliminating affirmative action.
In Texas, state lawmakers replaced an affirmative action program with guarantees that the top 10 percent of graduates from every one of the state's high schools would gain admission to the state university.
In Florida, affirmative action was replaced by a system that guarantees admission to state colleges to the top 20 percent of each high school's graduating class.
While in Pennsylvania each campus sets its own admission policy, Marshall said: "Our general policy is equal opportunity to all applicants and preference in admissions, hiring and promotion to members of minority groups. That would remain in place."
When asked if the admission of the top 15 percent of the students from even poorly performing high schools did not create the risk of admitting many unqualified students, Marshall said: "That's always a possibility. But our chancellor, James H. McCormick, has stated very clearly that it is our desire to provide access to higher education to as many students as possible."
Penn State says no
At Pennsylvania State University, the flagship institution of the state's premiere colleges, Dr. John Romano, vice provost for enrollment, said it would not adopt a policy like that contemplated at the second-tier colleges.
"We work very hard to build a student body that's diverse in character," Romano said. "But the system to automatically admit the top 15 percent of any high school, that conversation has not taken place."
Pennsylvania State University has 75,000 students, Romano said, of whom 11 percent are members of minorities.