The term “critical mass” about the enrollment of diverse students in institutions of higher education was mentioned in the decision Grutter v. Bollinger, attracting the public’s attention in part because of its indefinable nature. The discussion of this specific concept lends itself to an analysis of the potential representation of minority racial groups in terms of enrollment in colleges and universities in the future. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the difference between the idea of critical mass and quotas while analyzing how educational institutions can apply this measure with a focus on the potential for benefit.
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In applying the idea of a critical mass of diverse students in terms of enrollment, universities are attempting to address specific goals associated with the academic freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. One such goal is to support the idea that all young people, regardless of race or ethnicity, or social status, can have access to higher education. Thus, key academic freedom involves receiving knowledge and education without unreasonable or discriminatory barriers. Another goal is to guarantee that an educational institution will be able to effectively realize anti-discriminatory policies. Moreover, by enrolling diverse students, universities can accentuate an orientation toward building diverse faculties where professors and students are not limited in their freedoms related to their academic needs.
One controversial question in this context addresses the difference between the idea of a critical mass as a particular number related to this concept and such measures as quotas and targets. As stated in the Grutter v. Bollinger decision, a quota is a fixed number or proportion of people who should be enrolled according to some criteria; it is important to emphasize that this number cannot be exceeded. Numerical targets also represent the exact numbers or percentages that universities determine in an attempt to enroll students systematically. In contrast, the concept of critical mass is abstract, and unlike quotas and targets, it is not associated with any specific number or percentage. Thus, authorities in educational institutions can conclude their achievement of critical mass only before the end of the admission process.
From this perspective, it is necessary to discuss how educational institutions can determine that they have reached the desired critical mass of admissions for diverse students. Without depending on specific numerical targets, authorities for colleges and universities can understand whether a critical mass of minority students has been achieved by the end of the admission process by comparing the numbers of enrolled students of different races to ascertain the proportions and guarantee that minority students admitted in a particular year will not feel isolated or underrepresented.
As a result, the practical application of critical mass can be viewed as different each year; moreover, this abstract measure by its nature remains unpredictable. Although people responsible for reviewing admissions can discuss race as a “plus” factor at an early point in the admissions process, a full picture regarding a critical mass of minority students remains unavailable. The main focus at this stage is on trying to achieve a balance in enrolling diverse students.
Accentuating the concept of critical mass, educators and authorities emphasize the educational and societal benefits of diversity. Educational benefits can include the development of a diverse learning environment and a creative atmosphere in colleges and universities to promote students’ academic and intellectual potential. Societal benefits include providing all applicants with equal opportunities to receive an education. As a result, such a policy can contribute to improving cross-racial understanding and avoiding any potential for racial stereotypes and prejudice.
The decision for Grutter v. Bollinger predicted that in 25 years, the practice of racial preference would no longer be used in educational institutions. Analysis of the current situation in the sphere of higher education makes it possible to state that this point has not yet been reached; a comparably high gap between the numbers of enrolled White and minority students is still observable today. Thus, the members of minority groups remain underrepresented in the educational institutions of the United States because of many social and economic factors. In that light, should colleges and universities fail to apply programs and policies to stimulate the enrollment of minority students, it is possible to expect that the gap may even increase.
The analysis of the concept of a critical mass related to admitting minority students to accentuate diversity in US colleges and universities indicates that an opening exists to pursue similar policies in the effort to guarantee a balanced representation of different races in higher education. On the one hand, the idea of a critical mass is abstract and perhaps too subtle to be effectively applied in educational institutions. On the other hand, this approach seems to be less discriminatory and challenging than the controversial use of quotas. From this perspective, it is possible to predict the further application of the concept of critical mass in the sphere of education.
Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003). Supreme Court of the United States. Web.