In 1998, 58 percent of Washington voters decided to outlaw public colleges and universities from using race or ethnicity as a factor in college admissions.

After Initiative 200 became law, the diversity of Washington public university and college populations declined. Hardworking admissions officers have tried to turn that trend around, and the diversity of state college populations has improved some. But not nearly enough.

Washington colleges and universities are educating the workforce of the future. Our trade-dependent economy demands a diverse workforce. And too many of our young people face unreasonable barriers because of their income status or issues related to race. The Legislature should pass Initiative 1000 and restore affirmative action as a legal tool tohelp public colleges and employers reach their diversity goals to more closely mirror Washington’s population.

As an initiative to the Legislature, lawmakers may act on I-1000 or it will automatically appear on the November ballot.

I-1000 would not reestablish quotas. It would allow state and local governments to use “affirmative action that does not constitute preferential treatment” to remedy discrimination in public employment, education and contracting against veterans, women, people with disabilities and people of color.

The measure defines affirmative action as providing equal opportunity to these groups of employees or students through recruitment, hiring goals, outreach and training, for example. Preferential treatment is defined in the proposal as selecting a less qualified candidate based solely on a characteristic such as race and gender. And this action would still not be allowed in state law.

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The University of Washington student population illustrates why this law is needed. Although the student body has become decidedly less white since affirmative action was outlawed, international students have made up most of the increase in students of color.

In fall quarter 2010, white students made up nearly 52 percent of enrollment on the Seattle campus, compared to just 42 percent in 2018. But only one group of students really grew during that time: international students went from 8.6 percent of UW Seattle students in 2010 to 16.5 percent in 2018.

Most of UW’s international students come from China. UW’s population of Asian students who are not international students has also grown during this time period to nearly 25 percent of the student population, bringing the total number of Asian students to about 41 percent. The numbers for African-American, American-Indian and Hawaiian-Pacific Islander students have improved slightly during that time period. While Washington’s Latino population has grown to nearly 13 percent, according to the U.S. Census, UW’s Hispanic or Latino student population has grown only to 7.5 percent from 5.5 percent between 2010 and 2018.

Statewide, the numbers for four-year public colleges also saw a sizable increase in Latino enrollment to more than 16,000 students in fall 2015, from about 12,000 students in 2011, or about 5 percent of the students at public universities. Enrollment of multiracial students increased to nearly 11,000 students in fall 2015 from about 5,000 students in 2011. The number of black, Native-American and Pacific-Islander students enrolled in four-year public colleges all decreased statewide between 2011 and 2015.

Both college students and our society benefit from racial diversity on college campuses, which is likely to also result in more first-generation and low-income college students. Giving more Washington youth access to higher education will create a more diverse workplace.

Lawmakers from both houses should hold a joint hearing on I-1000 and approve the initiative instead of sending it to the people for a vote on the November ballot.