As we have discussed elsewhere (see “Affirmative Action vs. Preferential Treatment”), not all affirmative action programs rely on racial preferences, while others assume that racial preferences, to be effective, must be complemented by other sorts of “affirmative” strategies. In this section of the website, we examine several examples of these alternative forms of affirmative action. Under State Automatic Admissions Initiatives, we review and discuss the practices of a dozen state universities or university systems that have established formally race-neutral pathways to admission. In some cases, officials created these pathways in response to state initiatives or legislation that prohibited the use of racial preferences. In others, the pathways have been created for reasons not directly related to affirmative action controversies.

The U.S. Armed Services were formally segregated until the late 1940s, and conspicuously struggled with racial issues during the Vietnam War. Since the 1970s, however, the Armed Services have developed a variety of proactive strategies to foster esprit de corps across racial lines, and have been praised for achieving a markedly integrated officer corps and leadership. In her majority opinion for Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice O’Connor singled out the Armed Services’ approach to affirmative action as an important and persuasive example of race-conscious strategies mixed with other approaches to achieve successful integration. We provide some background on these efforts.

Class-based admissions preferences have been adopted by some higher education institutions, often as a supplement to racial preferences but, in some notable cases, as a substitute for them. The two key arguments for such systems are (a) that they focus on individual circumstances, not group membership, and are thus better targeted than racial preferences, and (b) that most elite colleges and professional schools in the United States have a more serious “class” representation deficit than a “racial” representation deficit. We provide some discussion and links to relevant materials.

For over a generation, the University of Maryland at Baltimore has offered a special program aimed at mentoring Black college students in STEM fields. As we discuss elsewhere, several scholars have found evidence that standard racial preferences programs often undermine minority success in STEM fields, by placing them in advanced environments where their preparation does not equip them to compete or study effectively. The Maryland program takes a very different approach, by making special efforts to provide support, tutoring, and research opportunities that are tailored to the preparation levels of the students it recruits.