Color-Blind Admissions

When a large and predominantly white public university such as Texas A&M can successfully increase its enrollment of minority students without considering race as an admissions factor, other schools should pay close attention.

Former CIA Director Robert Gates, who became president of A&M in 2002, managed to do just that. The number of black freshman enrolled at the school in 2004, compared with the year before, was up by 35 percent - from 158 to 213. The number of Hispanic freshmen increased by 26 percent - from 692 to 865. Not bad for a university that began as a military-training college, and, like many southern colleges, didn't admit blacks until the early 1960s (though it did admit Hispanics).

True, those jumps are out of a total freshman class of 7,068, and A&M, like other large Texas universities, has a long way to go to more fully reflect the state's racial population makeup.

Ever since Mr. Gates took office, he's been under pressure from Texas lawmakers and civil rights groups to diversify. To do it, he created an aggressive minority-recruitment program that included more high school visits, scholarship money, and doing away with a time-honored tradition of giving preference to children of alumni. Gates also got help from the state legislature, which passed a law in 1997 guaranteeing students in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes automatic admission to any Texas public college.

That the Supreme Court in 2003 reopened the possibility for colleges to partially use race-conscious admissions (and many did), makes A&M's achievement all the more significant.

When college students know that everyone has been accepted on the basis of their academic record and personal merit - not their race - a more level playing field is created. A&M's success shows the country can make significant civil rights strides without court orders.

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