The numbers of minority students applying to state colleges in Texas and California have dropped sharply in the wake of bitter political and legal battles over affirmative action. Some high- school graduates have told recruiters they no longer feel welcome at mainstream colleges.
The new figures threaten to reverse a national trend of growing enrolment by black, Hispanic, and American Indian students, the so-called "under-represented minorities". And it is feared that the effects may be most dramatic at prestigious universities and professional schools.
At the highly regarded University of Texas law school, where four white students successfully sued, claiming they were denied places because of their race, black students enrolment fell by nearly half this year. At the University of California's San Francisco medical school, minority applications have slumped by a third.
Defenders of affirmative action programmes, widely adopted by US colleges to open doors to minority students, sometimes by lowering test score and grade requirements, have warned for some time that without these programmes numbers could drop. The new figures appear to confirm their worst fears.
In California, Proposition 209, banning special treatment in state government and universities on the basis of race, was passed in a popular vote last year, after an acrimonious fight.
Conservatives on the University of California's board of regents independently ordered an end to affirmative action at UC.
In the nine-campus UC system, 47,000 students have applied for places, a 1.6 per cent increase on the previous year.
But while white and Asian student numbers rose, admissions officers reported a decline of almost 10 per cent in black and Hispanic applications.
UC president Richard Atkinson said he was hopeful that school outreach visits would help reverse this decline, once the negative publicity surrounding the affirmative action debate had sufficiently subsided.
In Texas, the law school case was taken as a signal by the state to abandon all race-based scholarship and admissions programmes. The highly regarded school produces one out of 11 Mexican American lawyers trained in the US, but applications from Hispanic students are down by 14 per cent.