America's Latino population is suffering as anti-affirmative measures approved by state governments and backed by the courts begin to bite.
Latinos have the highest highschool dropout rate of all US minorities and for those who do attend college, the completion rate is low - only 10 per cent for Hispanic adults against per cent for the adult population as a whole.
Public universities in Washington, California and Texas have reported falls in minority enrolments since anti-affirmative measures came into effect in all three states in recent years. All three have large Latino populations.
Numbers of black, Hispanic and Native American students fell in Washington in 1999 following the passage of Initiative 200, which eliminated many affirmative-action programmes.
The declines in minority enrolment have been most pronounced at the University of Washington, the state's largest educational institution. The number of Hispanic students has fallen from just under 5 per cent of the 1998 first-year student class to below 3 per cent in 2000.
One strategy to preserve racial diversity, used by California, Texas and Florida, is to guarantee a seat for a top percentage of students from each high-school class. But William Harvey, director of the American Council on Education's Office of Minorities in Higher Education, said the problem with so-called "percentage plans" was that they presumed that students attended racially segregated schools. But in integrated schools, minorities tend to come from poorer families, get poorer grades and so miss out on a guaranteed college place.
Jorge Chapa, director of Latinos studies at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, said the University of Texas at Austin had been able to use the top 10 per cent plan to boost minority numbers, but he warned that it would not necessarily result in more diversity.
Professor Chapa's research shows that students who attend public schools in high-income areas get preferential access to the best public universities. Half of the entering class at the University of Texas at Austin came from less than 5 per cent of Texas's public schools, for example.
From 1995 to 1999, while freshman admissions to the University of California decreased by 21.6 per cent for African-American students and by 6.5 per cent for Latino students, they rose for Asian/Pacific Islander students (26.9 per cent) and white students (17.6 per cent).
The university has boosted legally permitted outreach programmes in poor neighbourhoods and initiated a programme that guarantees admission to the top 4 per cent of high-school graduates.
Douglas Patino, vice-chancellor for university advancement for the California State University system, said that the state's economy depended on an educated workforce. "Without a highly educated Latino community, that economy cannot maintain itself," Professor Patino said. "If Californians are not careful, their decisions will hurt the wallets of all Californians."