Two cases before the Supreme Court have the potential to restrict long-standing recruiting and admissions practices in colleges and universities. The cases, brought by a special interest group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), allege that race-conscious admissions practices are unfair and violate the Constitution.
As presidents of liberal arts colleges, we strongly disagree. Holistic consideration of candidates is key to recruiting a well-rounded class, and this includes considering the richness of students’ many attributes and interests, including their lived experiences and backgrounds.
Although each of our colleges has a unique mission, we all work tirelessly to create the most complete student body possible in a competitive admissions market. This means not only striving for racial and ethnic diversity, but also – where possible – socio-economic diversity, gender balance, representation from all 50 states and ensuring that we have athletes for our teams, musicians for our orchestras and students interested in a wide variety of academic disciplines. This well-rounded student body helps create a community of scholars that enhances the learning environment for all.
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Nevertheless, we are aware that, when the decisions are rendered in June, the majority of the court could very likely prohibit the consideration of race or ethnicity in recruitment, admission, scholarships, groups of affinity, housing and other programs. That’s why we’re already taking steps to prepare for what seems inevitable. Due to the huge amount of work involved in recruiting and reviewing applications, we couldn’t wait until June to start.
Changes many of us are making include lowering barriers to admissions, such as eliminating application fees and requiring you to submit standardized test scores. We also intentionally recruit candidates from high schools and communities that have not typically sent students to our institutions. And we develop partnerships with college access and success organizations such as College Track, College Possible, College Horizons, and the Posse Foundation to help us identify and expand our pool of candidates.
However, supporting the success of students from historically excluded groups is not just about admissions. It is also about creating an environment in which all students can thrive and, in this area, our institutions are well placed to respond. This includes programs and services for students from historically excluded groups and the reduction of institutional barriers to their success. Our residential campus environments, small class sizes, strong support networks, significant institutional financial aid and mentorship programs contribute to high retention rates and four-year completion rates among all of our students, although higher than the rates of large public universities.
Yet, even with significant investments in prioritizing student diversity, very few of our institutions reflect the true ethnic and racial makeup of our country, or even of the communities in which our colleges are located. And we fear that the court’s decision will set back our progress. A new report of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce predicts that restricting race-conscious admissions practices will lead to less ethnic and racial diversity at selective colleges and universities.
It would be tragic. To fulfill the promise of economic and social mobility, we must continue to rectify the systemic barriers that have prevented so many talented students of color from pursuing higher education. Getting a college degree is the most powerful thing a person can do to change their economic status. A diverse student body creates a rich learning environment that prepares students to succeed in a diverse workforce and is essential for a healthy democracy. For all of these reasons, we are deeply committed to expanding access to higher education and increasing diversity within our student bodies, regardless of the court’s decision.
We must expand, not limit, access to American higher education.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A presidential signature was removed post-publication after organizers informed Inside Higher Education it had been submitted in error, reducing the total number of signatures to 27.