This bar will make it extremely difficult for colleges and universities to consider race as part of their admissions process in the future.
Roberts’ majority opinion left open a small window into how colleges might consider race in admissions. “Nothing in this advisory should be construed to prohibit universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race has affected their life, whether through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” wrote the chief judge.
Dissenting, Judge Sonia Sotomayor described it as a meaningless concession – “nothing more than an attempt to put lipstick on a pig”.
“The Court’s opinion limits universities’ ability to consider race in all its forms by meticulously eviscerating respondents’ asserted diversity interests,” Sotomayor wrote. “Yet, because the Court cannot escape the inevitable truth that race matters in the lives of students, it announces a false promise to save face and appear sensitive to reality. No one is fooled. »
Nine states – including California, Florida, Michigan and Washington – already prohibit affirmative action in public colleges and universities.
Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina over their race-conscious admissions policies, arguing they were unfair and discriminatory. The group alleged that Harvard’s policies, in particular, discriminate against Asian American applicants. Universities have countered that they need to consider race to build a diverse student body, which brings educational benefits to schools.
The decision has big implications for students looking to attend the most competitive colleges in the country, who are more likely to consider race as an admissions factor. But the ruling is likely to have little effect on the vast majority of students who attend less selective schools, such as community colleges, which accept most students who apply.
Here are three main ways the decision is likely to affect students applying to college:
Black, Latino and Indigenous students will be less likely to get into top colleges
Officials at several selective colleges have said they expect the number of black and Latino students, in particular, to decline if colleges are essentially no longer allowed to consider student race as part of a holistic admissions review.
An expert working for Harvard, for example, estimated that getting rid of race-conscious admissions would drop black enrollment in Harvard’s freshman class from 14% to 6%, and Hispanic enrollment from 14% to 9%. White and Asian American listings, meanwhile, would increase.
Data from states that previously banned affirmative action also provides insight into what may be happening nationally. After California and Michigan got rid of affirmative action, the share of black, Latino, and Indigenous students at several of the most selective colleges fell sharply. These numbers have tended to go up over time, but have never fully rebounded — and they still don’t represent the racial diversity of high school graduates in these states, the Boston Globe reported.
When colleges become less racially diverse, students of color often feel schools are less welcoming, which could further reduce the number of black and Latino students on campus. It matters because black and Latino students are more likely to benefit social capital that comes from attending a top university.
Colleges in states that removed affirmative action tried alternatives to create racially diverse classes. This includes accepting a certain percentage of top high school graduates, recruiting from high schools that have large proportions of underrepresented students, and give preference to students from low-income families. But researchers and many university officials say these methods don’t work as well as explicitly considering race.
“There is no racially neutral alternative to the ability to consider race,” said Femi Ogundele, an official at the University of California, Berkeley. recently told the Los Angeles Times.
On top of that, colleges might not want to take further steps to ensure racial diversity for fear of violating the latest Supreme Court ruling.
“I think people are imagining that we’ll find creative ways to circumvent the court’s decision, like using a candidate’s postcode as a proxy for their race. But we won’t. says Lee Bollingerthe outgoing president of Columbia University who was accused in a previous historic Supreme Court case who confirmed the affirmative action. “We cannot knowingly violate the US Supreme Court decision. We will have to comply with it, no matter the pain.
Students and their school counselors will have to navigate new college admissions terrain
The Supreme Court’s decision will have the greatest effects on high-achieving high school students who apply to highly selective colleges, because those institutions are more likely to use race as an admissions factor.
A quarter of colleges considered race in admissions to some degree, according to a Survey 2019 of the National Association for College Admission Counseling which was cited in the court case. But 60% of the most selective colleges — those that accept 4 out of 10 or fewer applicants — have considered an applicant’s race, according to a 2015 survey of the American Council on Education.
These colleges serve a small slice of the nation’s undergraduate students. This fall, colleges that admitted half their students or less enrolled only 10% of U.S. undergraduates, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse.
For these students, this decision may change the colleges they apply to and the information they share about their applications.
This leaves many school counselors and college coaches worried about whether they will have the time to research and advise students on changing admissions policies. Many low-income students of color — whose school counselors tend to have higher workloads — won’t have anyone to provide that kind of hands-on help.
“It’s already a messy job that’s under-resourced,” said Austin Buchan, senior vice president of College Possible, a nonprofit that helps students from low-income families apply to college. “And that’s just not going to do us any favors.”
Personal essays, which often ask students about their identity, values, and contribution to campus life, are likely to be particularly difficult.
During the two series of pleadings, several judges asked whether students would still be allowed to talk about certain personal experiences, such as overcoming racial discrimination or being proud of their family’s cultural traditions, if race could not be taken into account.
A Student Advocate for Fair Admissions says “culture, tradition, heritage are not off limits for students and universities to consider” as long as the college gives credit for “something unique and individual in what they actually wrote, not race itself. Some judges noted that the distinction might be difficult for colleges to make.
For this reason, some college entrance coaches and school counselors worry that students will avoid talking about anything that might hint at their race, even though it might improve their candidacy.
“Students could be self-censoring,” said Marie Bigham, executive director of ACCEPT, a nonprofit that advocates for racial equity in college admissions. “Racial identities and experiences are so intertwined in our lives in the United States. How can you separate this effectively in a way that won’t be constantly scrutinized? »
Some students of color may lower their college ambitions
School counselors and college coaches say black and Latino students are already delaying applying to the nation’s top colleges, or fearing they won’t earn their spots when they’re accepted. The latest Supreme Court decision, they said, could cause more students to question their abilities and consider whether they want to pursue higher education – at a time when there has already been a spike in students skipping college.
“It compounds a narrative that many students feel reinforced every step of the way,” said Buchan of College Possible. He fears the decision will make more students think: “See, I told you higher education wasn’t for me.”
Some research also supports the idea that student motivation suffers when positive action is not on the table. Natalie Bau, an economics professor at UCLA, examined what happened when Texas lifted its ban on considering race in college admissions.
She and her colleagues found that black and Latino high school students had better school attendance, higher SAT scores, higher grades, and applied to more colleges—and the effects were greatest for students with the highest test scores.
The thinking is “before it seems too difficult” to get into a more selective college, and “now it becomes doable, so it makes sense to put in that extra effort,” Bau said. With a nationwide ban on affirmative action, Bau said, student motivation could decline.
“Underrepresented minority students could reduce their high school efforts, which could lead to lower test scores, lower grades, lower attendance, and fewer applications to selective institutions,” Bau said. “It could make this under-apply problem worse.”
Kalyn Belsha is a Chicago-based national education reporter. Contact her at email@example.com.