Skip Office Navigation
OCR: Office for Civil Rights!
   Current Section
OCR Letter: Race-Neutral Approaches to Diversity


February 2004

Leaders of the Education Community,

The diversity question in America now is not "Whether?" but "How?" The Supreme Court's decisions in the Michigan affirmative action litigation affirm that our shared commitment to diversity is both compelling and just when pursued within lawful parameters. In light of these decisions, President George W. Bush has challenged the education community to develop innovative ways to achieve diversity in our schools without falling back upon illegal quotas. Most educational leaders, particularly at the postsecondary level, agree with the importance of this goal. The question before us, then, is not whether we should seek more diverse, inclusive academic communities, but how we can do so while meeting the highest academic and legal standards.

The Department is committed to working with educational leaders to strengthen the diversity of our academic communities, presenting a wide variety of race-neutral approaches. In March 2003, the Office for Civil Rights released a report entitled RACE-NEUTRAL ALTERNATIVES IN POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION: INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO DIVERSITY, which provided a catalogue of race-neutral options available to educational institutions. The March 2003 report divided these approaches into two categories, "developmental" and "admissions" approaches and emphasized connections between secondary and postsecondary issues. In April 2003, the Department held a conference for over 80 of our country's postsecondary educational leaders in Miami, Florida, to foster innovative thinking about race-neutral means to achieve diversity in educational institutions. Leaders from the University of Texas, the University of Florida, the University of California system and other institutions spoke about the initial positive results from these programs. Panel discussions provided valuable insight into creating an educational climate for effective use of race-neutral alternatives. Since those early efforts, we have been asked to supplement our initial report with additional information on these programs, as well as new information regarding graduate and professional programs, private institutions and K-12 schools. This new report, which revises and expands the March 2003 report, is intended to satisfy those requests.

This report, like the Department's previous efforts, has two primary goals. First, we hope to provide institutions with a "toolbox" containing an array of workable race-neutral alternatives. The goal here is not to tell people what they cannot do or where the court-imposed limitations on racial or ethnic considerations may fall. Rather, we hope to highlight several approaches that appear, from early indications, to be promising. This report is all about finding positive, constructive methods for achieving and maintaining diversity. Second, we hope to demonstrate that the range of options available to all educational institutions is much broader than people typically assume. Educational institutions are using a wide variety of approaches such as class-rank plans, socioeconomic preferences and recruitment and outreach plans to create a diverse student body. Moreover, all of these admissions plans put together represent only one small subset of the available alternatives. The most aggressive plans aim at developing a diverse applicant pool containing excellent candidates of all backgrounds who are equipped, by strong elementary and secondary preparation, not only to apply successfully to postsecondary institutions, but also to succeed. Our hope is to highlight these developmental approaches and to put the range of admissions approaches in a broader context. We hope that this publication will help foster innovative thinking in the use of race-neutral means to produce diversity in institutions across the nation.


Kenneth L. Marcus
Delegated the Authority of the
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education

Last Modified: 01/10/2020