As the Supreme Court revisits the use of race in college admissions next week, critics of affirmative action are hopeful the justices will roll back the practice. A new report out Wednesday offers a big reason for their optimism: evidence from at least some of the nine states that don't use affirmative action that leading public universities can bring meaningful diversity to their campuses through race-neutral means.

That conclusion is vigorously disputed by supporters of race-based affirmative action, including universities in states like California which cannot under state law factor race into admissions decisions. The new report, by the Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and prominent advocate of class-based affirmative action, calls those states' race-neutral policies largely successful.

The University of California and others call them a failure that's left their campuses inadequately representative of the states they serve.

Kahlenberg also acknowledges that highly selective universities like UCLA and UC Berkeley and Michigan haven't recovered from drop-offs in minority enrollments after voters in those states outlawed racial preferences.

But in most places, the report argues, a combination of measures -- aggressive outreach, de-emphasizing of standardized tests, affirmative action based on class instead of race, and even getting rid of legacy preferences that mostly benefit whites -- has allowed minority representation on their campuses to recover to previous levels.


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Seven states have banned racial preferences in admissions outright -- Washington, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, California and Florida. In Texas and Georgia leading public universities use a race-neutral system, though the University of Texas has maintained some use of affirmative action. It's that policy at University of Texas that's now before the court in a case brought by Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant. Arguments are next Wednesday.

But supporters of affirmative action draw different lessons from the experiences of the states trying race-neutral methods. For one thing, they note states like California, Florida and Texas are much more diverse now, so holding minority numbers steady isn't progress. University of Texas, which now uses race as a factor for a small part of its class, argues the Top 10 percent plan failed to provide sufficient diversity, noting blacks remain underrepresented and many classrooms lack minority voices.