Senator Kohl-Welles works to add flexibility to college admissions

Hoping to ensure that Washington's public colleges and universities have the flexibility to admit high-quality, diverse student bodies, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, has introduced a bill that would allow higher education institutions to consider racial background as one factor in the admissions process.

The bill comes at the request of Gov. Gary Locke.

"Washington's colleges and universities offer some of the best educational opportunities in the country," said Kohl-Welles. "I want to be sure that, in addition, our students benefit from academic communities that reflect the ever-growing diversity of our society."

Senate Bill 6268 would amend current state law to allow state colleges and universities to consider race when reviewing applications. Current law forbids government entities from using race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin as a consideration that might result in preferential treatment or discrimination.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the University of Michigan Law School's use of race in admissions decisions was sufficiently narrow in its aim to serve the interest of diversity. SB 6268 would amend current law solely to reflect the decision, allowing colleges and universities to consider race, color, ethnicity or national origin in admission and transfer policies if the consideration is intended to promote diversity.

The amendment would not allow higher education institutions to implement quota systems or set aside admission slots for certain individuals based on these factors.

"Our higher education institutions are at a distinct disadvantage because they can't consider the whole applicant during the admissions process as other states can," Kohl-Welles said. "Let's allow our schools a holistic approach to looking at applicants."

Locke has vowed to support efforts to make our state statutes consistent with the Supreme Court decision.

"A key component of education is diversity - diversity of backgrounds, diversity of views, and diversity of cultures and ethnicities," said Locke. "I think the ethnicity of applicants should be taken into account when considering individual student applications, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court decision. That's why I support [the change] to allow for the consideration of race, without quotas or 'set-asides.'"

Kohl-Welles has worked to ensure bipartisan support of the bill, including Sen. Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee.

"This bill isn't about restoring affirmative action policies for our state's colleges and universities," Carlson said. "It's about allowing an institution's admissions officers to look at all facets of a potential student's background as they consider whether to accept that student into that school."

The Senate Higher Education Committee plans a public hearing on the issue at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 22, in Senate Hearing Room 3, John A. Cherberg Building.

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