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Redefining campus diversity

Selective schools need to be vigilant in their effort to bring in more low-income kids.

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Across America, the nation's select colleges are expanding their concept of diversity. It's not just about improving racial and ethnic balance on campus, but also increasing the percentage of low-income students – which is even lower than for minorities. Both are important goals.

Politics and the courts are pushing elite schools toward this broader approach.

In June, it will be five years since the Supreme Court gave the University of Michigan law school a pass on its practice of using race as one tool to consider in admissions. But this qualified OK on affirmative action is tenuous. Given the justices now on the bench, a new challenge could well be overturned. Such a case may grow out of a recent suit against the University of Texas at Austin.

At the same time, political momentum is building to ban race as a consideration in public education and hiring. This fall Colorado, Missouri, Arizona, and Nebraska will put such initiatives on ballots. If past voter approval in California, Washington, and Michigan is any guide, the four measures will pass, and handily.

Opening the university gates to make it possible for more low-income students to attend still means shutting out otherwise qualified students. But voters perceive discrimination based on income as more acceptable than racial preferences. And there are no legal hurdles.

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