A new analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce demonstrates that an expected national ban on race-conscious admissions practices threatens the racial and ethnic diversity of students at selective colleges unless these colleges fundamentally alter their admissions practices.

In the report, CEW researchers examine six different admissions models and their likely impact on racial/ethnic and socioeconomic diversity if used consistently across selective colleges. Four models consider alternatives to race-conscious admissions, and two demonstrate what could happen if race-conscious admissions were expanded instead of banned. Two models specifically consider class-conscious admissions as alternatives to race-conscious admissions.

Among the six models that were tested, those that expand rather than prohibit race-conscious admissions practices come the closest to mirroring the racial/ethnic composition of the population graduating from the nation’s high schools, the report states. An admissions strategy that considers class, not race, and creates preferences for applicants from lower-SES families could be used to partially recoup, maintain, or even slightly exceed current enrollment shares for Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American students, although these students would remain significantly underrepresented relative to their share of the high school class.

Every class-conscious alternative model would result in a drop in the existing percentage of students at selective colleges who are American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AI/AN/NH/PI), a group that is already severely underrepresented relative to their representation in the high school class.

The report also emphasizes that for selective colleges to effectively diversify the student body without race-conscious admissions, they must dramatically enhance student recruitment and/or scale up direct admissions practices: the applicant pool would have to mirror the composition of the high school graduating class, rather than just those who apply to selective colleges today. Class-conscious alternatives could result in more racial diversity than the current system, but only if all selective colleges used class-conscious admissions practices and considered a much larger and more diverse pool of applicants for admission. Unfortunately, neither of these conditions seems very likely, the report notes.