Universities Seek New Strategies to Maintain Diversity Following Landmark Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

by Joshua Brown
Affirmative Action Ruling

With a landmark ruling from the Supreme Court that invalidated affirmative action, universities across the United States are now compelled to find innovative strategies to foster student diversity.

Thursday’s announcement was met with disappointment from numerous university leaders who see it as a setback to diversity efforts. However, they remain hopeful about devising fresh means to increase the admission of Black and Hispanic students, even though past data suggests that discontinuing affirmative action often results in their significantly reduced enrollment.

President Joe Biden expressed his disagreement with the court’s decision, urging the Education Department to investigate possible policies that might support universities in creating diverse student populations. He also objected to policies such as legacy preferences, which are admission benefits provided to alumni children and tend to favor affluent white students.

“Walking away from the dream upon which this country was founded should never be an option,” Biden told reporters. “We need a new path forward, one that is consistent with the law, protects diversity, and expands opportunity.”

But learning from states that have previously banned affirmative action, this appears to be a formidable challenge.

As a replacement for affirmative action, colleges from California to Florida have employed various tactics to foster the diversity they deem essential for their campuses. Some have given additional preference to families with low income. Others have begun admitting top students from every community within their state.

Despite years of trials, often triggered by state-level bans on race consideration in admissions, no clear solution has emerged. In states mandating race-neutral policies, many colleges, particularly those traditionally predominantly white, have witnessed enrollment declines among Black and Hispanic students.

Officials at Amherst College had predicted that adopting an entirely race-neutral approach would halve the population of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous students.

Anticipating a rollback from a seemingly skeptical Supreme Court, colleges had been preparing. Some considered adding more essays to gain a deeper understanding of an applicant’s background, an approach suggested in the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court’s conservative majority, stated, “Universities are not prohibited from considering an applicant’s discourse on how race has influenced their life, provided it directly relates to a unique quality or ability that the applicant can bring to the university.”

Other colleges were contemplating enhancing recruitment in racially diverse regions or admitting more transfer students from community colleges.

The court considered affirmative action following challenges at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. While lower courts had upheld admission systems at both schools, rejecting claims of discrimination against white and Asian American applicants, all six conservative justices expressed doubts about the practice in the Supreme Court arguments in late October.

Nine states have already outlawed affirmative action, beginning with California in 1996 and most recently, Idaho in 2020.

After Michigan voters turned down affirmative action in 2006, the University of Michigan shifted its focus to low-income students. Despite these efforts, the number of Black and Hispanic undergraduates has yet to fully recover from the decline after 2006.

At the same time, some less selective colleges in Michigan have seen improvements. For instance, Eastern Michigan University has seen an increase in the number of students of color, reflecting demographic changes within the state. This highlights a chilling effect most evident at selective colleges: students of color are more likely to choose campuses that seem more inclusive when they see fewer of their peers in places like Ann Arbor.

The University of California also experienced enrollment declines following a statewide ban in 1996. Despite spending over $500 million on programs targeting low-income and first-generation college students, racial diversity remained an issue.

While some states have fared well without affirmative action, many colleges anticipate that racial diversity could suffer. The invalidation of affirmative action has caused colleges to fear that they might unintentionally admit fewer students of color. This can become a self-sustaining issue as dwindling numbers can make a campus appear less attractive to prospective students of color.

Universities argue that racial diversity benefits the entire campus, allowing students to be exposed to different perspectives and preparing them for a diverse workforce. In order to attract more underserved populations, experts suggest that colleges might need to eliminate policies that favor white students, such as legacy preferences, early admission, and standardized test scores.

The education team at Big Big News receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Follow the AP’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court at https://bigbignews.net/us-supreme-court.

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James234 June 30, 2023 - 12:46 pm

Wow, this is huge news! I can’t believe affirmative action got struck down. universities are gonna have a tough time maintaining diversity now…

TomH June 30, 2023 - 2:33 pm

but why scrap affirmative action? it was helpful for so many. i dont get it, guys.

Ruth_educator June 30, 2023 - 7:45 pm

as a college educator, I’m deeply concerned. We need a diverse student body for a rich learning environment.

Kyle_D July 1, 2023 - 2:28 am

looks like the fight for diversity on campuses just got a lot harder…we’ll see how colleges adapt, I guess.

JennyBee July 1, 2023 - 5:27 am

Its not fair that some students wont get a chance now..diversity is what makes a university great!

Lisa_Martin July 1, 2023 - 6:58 am

Seriously? They’re taking away affirmative action! I thought we were moving forward, not backward.

DeanS July 1, 2023 - 9:34 am

So now what? We just accept that our universities will become less diverse? not on my watch!


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