Concern that the United States' growing minority population is under-represented in higher education has prompted a call for changes in college admissions policies. The Higher Education Forum, a group of U.S. corporate leaders and university presidents, suggests colleges take steps to get more diversity on campus.
The Forum calls for increasing financial aid to racial and ethnic minorities in order to help them pay for college.
The group also wants public universities, which educate three-quarters of undergraduates in the U.S. to admit all students who graduate in the top ten percent of their secondary school classes. Doing so would overcome the disadvantage presently faced by students who attend academically inferior inner city high schools.
Boeing Corporation executive James Dagnon, a member of the Higher Education Forum, says such steps are vital to the economic future of the country. "The U.S.is going to have this hugely diverse population, and businesses are going to have this need for highly competent people, and there is going to be more jobs than people available, unless we get diverse people with these skill sets," he said. "It's just a very pragmatic job need matched to skill needs."
Mr. Dagnon says an aging native population combined with increased immigration and a high minority birth rate is changing U.S.demographics. That change, he says, is not yet reflected in the make up of U.S. universities. "Minorities are not going to be minorities in the distant future," said James Dagnon. "Hispanics, Asians and folks from all over - that's the future work force. How do we get that diverse population interested in the math and sciences and computer sciences that the jobs of the future are going to need?"
30 years ago the U.S. government came up with "Affirmative Action Programs" which tried to compensate for past discrimination by giving black students a leg-up in college admissions.
Law suits were filed in protest, and several U.S. courts ruled that racial preferences were unconstitutional, even those intended to compensate for past inequalities.
There is irony in the fact that U.S. business leaders many of whom objected in the past to affirmative action racial hiring quotas are now endorsing a similar concept.
But John Biggs, President of the financial service provider TIAA-CREF, says business has no choice if it wants a qualified future work force. "We have got to do something more about bringing the minority population into the mainstream of American life, and a crucial point in the pipeline to that is college education," he said.
As if anticipating controversy, the Forum for Higher Education is offering legal assistance to any college that is sued for following the Forum's guidelines.