Admissions and Race: The Battle Continues in Washington State

Since 1998 the University of Washington has been prohibited by state law from using race in its admissions decisions. As a result, black enrollments remain at very low levels. Blacks are less than 3 percent of the total enrollments at the flagship campus in Seattle, despite the fact that the Seattle K-12 public school system is now 22 percent black.

This year the university established what it calls its “holistic” admissions policy. Admissions officials did away with an automatic system which ranked students solely on grades and test scores. Now admissions officers read every application and take into account factors such as leadership potential and whether the student has overcome significant obstacles in efforts to come to college. The university allocated an additional $200,000 to its admissions budget and hired 20 graduate students part-time to read applications.

This past week the university reported that the number of black applicants to the university is up 16 percent from a year ago. Overall applications increased by just 4 percent.

But political activist Tim Eyman, who sponsored the initiative that banned race-sensitive admissions in Washington State, believes the university is using the holistic policy to circumvent the ban on affirmative action. He has filed a new initiative that would bar admissions officers from knowing the race, gender, and even the name of applicants. Under his proposal, each applicant would be assigned a number and all references to race and gender would be removed from personal information on a student’s application.

Eyman has until this July to collect enough signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot.

Copyright © 2006. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.