By Linda Conner Lambeck

A brewing U.S. Supreme Court case involving race-conscious admission decisions has some college officials in Connecticut concerned that the outcome could ultimately alter recruitment practices for selective colleges everywhere.

“It could very much change the rules on affirmative action,” said Robert Farrell, a law professor at Quinnipiac University who sees the potential for broad implications with Fisher v. University of Texas that ­— depending on the decision — could be felt beyond Texas and beyond public universities with selective admission practices.

“It could make it harder for schools to have a process where they can formally consider race as a factor (in admission). Colleges might have to come up with some other method,” according to Farrell, who said the case is being watched closely by his law students at the Hamden school.

Others say the case, no matter how it is decided, won’t change how they admit students. At Western Connecticut State University in Danbury — where one in four students is of color — and at New Haven’s Southern Connecticut State University — where three out of ten incoming students this fall were under-represented minorities — race isn’t a factor in the admission committee’s decision. Largely, because a diverse population comes naturally.

But the case, which likely won’t be decided until next year, has some who work to get minority students into college shaking their heads at the continuing struggle to help inner city students defy the odds.

“There are so many factors that already hurt students of color getting into college,” said Teresa Wilson, executive director of The Village Initiative Project, a program that helps minority students in the Bridgeport area through the college admission process.

“Why is there still a question of its importance and relevance in 2012?”

Wilson called the case baseless.

Oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court on Wednesday concerning a white student who challenged the way the University of Texas at Austin took race into account in denying her admission. The case is being heard before a court whose make-up is more conservative than the one that voted 5-to-4 in a 2003 Michigan case that diversity was a compelling interest for universities, and that race can factor into admissions decisions as long as there were not strict quotas. Since that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is out, and the more conservative Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., is in.

“If one vote switches, it could change the whole ruling,” Farrell said.

The case challenges race-conscious admissions criteria once again, arguing it violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. Texas automatically grants admission to students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

That race-neutral measure guarantees the university some diversity based on the demographics of Texas high schools. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, fell just below the 10 percent, where race is one of a number of factors taken into consideration.

The court, according to Farrell, could decide to keep things as they are, fashion a ruling that narrowly speaks to the Texas situation, or throw out the ability to consider race altogether.

Farrell predicts the decision will be a narrow one that will largely keep affirmative action intact, but should the court goes with the last option, Farrell said it would make it harder for colleges to formally consider race as an admission factor.

He said it would impact private as well as public schools because most private colleges accept public funding.

At Western Connecticut State University, officials have their eye on the case in a purely academic sense.

“We don’t think, no matter what the decision is, it will effect what we do here,” said Paul Speinmetz, a spokesman at the state university. He is confident that the public institution can continue to enjoy a diverse student body without race-based quotas and goals. It helps that Western draws primarily from a diverse region.

At Southern, Kimberly Crone, an associate vice president for academic student services at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, called a diverse population critical but said the college has a recruitment plan designed to attract a robust diverse applicant pool, making decisions based on race unnecessary.

“I know that is true of the entire state university system. I know colleagues at UConn, and to the best of my knowledge it does not base decisions on race either,” said Crone. University of Connecticut officials could not be reached to comment.

Wilson, however, said inner-city minority students still face obstacles that others don’t when it comes to getting into college. They most likely attend failing schools with scarce resources. And they often don’t have the money to afford SAT preparation classes, and have a limited number of role models who can help fill out financial aid forms, seek out scholarships or advise them on what will stand on a college resume.

After 20 years of taking students on tours to colleges that actively recruit minority students as a way to promote diversity on their campuses, Wilson called it disturbing that the majority of the students of color in her program still carry the label “first generation” college-bound.