As federal courts chip away at race-based college programs, University officials will consider broadening criteria this month for a tuition waiver that now targets nonresident minority students.
While University officials have said they are not altering the policy because of any legal challenges, proposed changes would lessen the school’s legal vulnerability.
“We think we’re doing this for the best of educational reasons,” said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost. He said the proposed changes will continue to use race, but it will not be the only factor in granting the waiver.
Created in 1990 to support the school’s goals of increasing racial diversity, the policy offers nonresident students of color in-state tuition rates. About 850 undergraduates and graduates receive the waiver at an annual cost of $4.3 million, about one-fourth of all the University’s waiver programs.
The waiver is based upon two factors: race and academic standing. High school students must be in the top 25 percent of their class or have a 3.0 grade point average. Graduate students must have at least a 3.0 undergraduate gpa.
If proposed changes are approved by the administration, the criteria would be expanded to include economic disadvantage as a determining factor. In addition, the University could grant 50 to 100 percent discounts off of nonresident tuition.
Critics of the waiver have said the University is breaking the law by affording students tuition discounts based on race. In an upcoming report to be released by the Minnesota Association of Scholars, University law school student and waiver recipient Tommy Sangchompuphen challenges the policy against recent court decisions concerning race-based preferences.
Such cases include Hopwood v. Texas, in which the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th District ruled in 1996 that race-based admissions were illegal. The Hopwood decision echoed a 1978 Supreme Court ruling where a special admissions program in California designed for minority students was struck down for violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Sangchompuphen, who is from Texas, said he believes the University is also violating the 14th Amendment by using race as a standard for granting the tuition waiver and should administer it differently.
“The University can achieve its goals of diversity by not taking race into consideration,” he said. “By basing a scholarship on a check on box it doesn’t really get to the heart of that determination.”
Renee Salazar, a second-year law student from California, said she thinks the program is a great tool for recruiting students who normally wouldn’t consider the University’s law school.
“It’s definitely why I came,” she said.
Salazar said she thinks Sangchompuphen’s position on the waiver is hypocritical. She recognized that although the money would be hard to turn down, a person who is truly against the waiver would refuse it.
She said the program can increase the number of minority students enrolled in law school and expand the world view of other students.
Salazar said she would support an expansion of the criteria. Such an expansion could be approved within the next month, Bruininks said.
“Certainly in no way by making some changes in this are we backing off our commitment to diversity and access,” said Wayne Sigler, director of University Admissions. “Those are strong goals of the University that we remain committed to.”
Officials are still discussing whether a change would come at the administrative level or would have to be approved by the Board of Regents.
If the proposed changes are accepted, they would not take effect until the 1999-2000 school year.
Whatever the outcome, students currently receiving the waiver would not suffer financially.
“Under no circumstances would a student who already receives this waiver benefit lose it,” said Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Planning and Analysis.