UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was invited to the White House last week to address the importance of inclusion and opportunity in higher education following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decisions barring race conscious admissions.

The chancellor participated in a livestreamed panel discussion co-hosted by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and White House domestic policy advisor Neera Tanden that also included leaders from Princeton University, the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Trinity Washington University, Morgan State University and Northern Virginia Community College.

The Sept. 28 event coincided with the release of an new U.S. Department of Education report, “Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education,” which calls for states and the higher education sector to prioritize outreach, admissions, financial aid and other factors that promote opportunity and inclusion on college campuses.

Photo of Chancellor Block and other panelist seated at horsehoe-shaped table
Courtesy of White House Photo Office
Block, second from left, on the panel.

The context for Block’s panel remarks was UCLA’s response to the drastic drop in students of color on campus following California voters’ 1996 adoption of Proposition 209, which barred consideration of race and ethnicity in hiring and admissions decisions at California’s public institutions.

He noted that UCLA had been able to “maintain a commitment to opportunity and diversity while complying with Proposition 209” through innovative outreach, holistic admissions policies, investments in financial aid and the creation of a supportive environment to meet student needs. After decades of hard work, those efforts paid off, and UCLA has finally returned to pre–Proposition 209 enrollment levels for traditionally underserved populations.

Insisting that we “have to meet the students where they are,” Block explained that UCLA achieved this success through partnerships with California community colleges, school districts, religious organizations and other institutions, as well as by increasing UCLA’s geographic reach to underserved parts of the state, such as the Central Valley and the areas north of San Francisco.

Block seated at table win Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College, on the left.
Courtesy of White House Photo Office
Block and Anne Kress, president of Northern Virginia Community College

The chancellor also touted the benefits of holistic admissions practices that assess student accomplishment in the context of the opportunities and challenges they have had and the importance of welcoming transfer students who tend to be “more diverse in age, background and ethnicity.”

Block noted that there remains more work to do, however, especially as it pertains to Latino enrollment, given the changes in California’s population demographics in recent decades. UCLA is currently making investments that Block hopes will help it achieve federal designation as an Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Other panelists detailed their own efforts to make opportunities available to a diverse range of students.

“When so many of our leaders come from selective institutions of higher education,” said Tanden, who is a UCLA alumna, maintaining diverse student bodies is ultimately about “whether our democracy will be truly representative in the future.”

Watch the full panel discussion: