The Supreme Court’s decision striking down Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill’s affirmative action programs can be seen as the final destination after a challenging journey.– Shriram kumbhar
Significant alterations are on the horizon for elite college admissions and how applicants compete for coveted spots. In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court declared that Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the 14th amendment by considering race as a factor in admissions. This type of affirmative action, commonly practiced at highly selective institutions, is now prohibited.
Students from diverse backgrounds express distress and a shift in their perspective on the admissions process. They are concerned about the impact on their senior year and question what aspects of their identity they should highlight in their applications.
Nonetheless, there are alternative methods for colleges to promote diversity and for students of color to gain access to these institutions, which may involve discussing race in certain cases.
Here’s an early glimpse into the potential changes that may occur in college admissions.
Although the recent decision holds significance, it will have limited impact on most colleges. Out of over 1,000 institutions using the Common Application, only 70 accept less than 25% of applicants, as mentioned by CEO Jenny Rickard.
Moreover, several schools in states like Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan already prohibited affirmative action in college admissions before this ruling. Arizona State University promptly announced that it falls under those institutions unaffected by the ruling. The university emphasized that it remains committed to maintaining a diverse student body that represents Arizona’s population.
What impact does Ending Affirmative Action have on college admissions tests and essays?
Even prior to the pandemic, prestigious colleges started allowing applicants to omit standardized test scores as an option. This was done in hopes of promoting diversity among students. When the pandemic hit, test-optional policies became the norm for logistical reasons. As of last spring, submitting SAT or ACT scores remained optional for most schools.
Although studies indicate that the shift away from these tests has resulted in minimal changes in the composition of student bodies at small, private institutions, experts believe that the recent affirmative action decision by the court will solidify these policies. This could lead to greater emphasis on personal statements and essays, where discussions about race often arise.
The ruling has drawn attention to a specific line: “Nothing in this opinion should be interpreted as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s account of how race influenced their life, whether through discrimination, inspiration, or other factors.” However, the justices also stated, contradicting the dissent, that universities cannot establish the same discriminatory practices through application essays or other means.
Aina Marzia, a 17-year-old rising senior from El Paso, Texas, expressed her frustration with the court’s decision: “For students of my age, including myself, this ruling doesn’t prevent us from discussing how race has affected us. It’s just that we won’t have a checkbox for it on our applications this fall.”
Following the court’s decision on race-conscious admissions policies, protesters congregated outside the Supreme Court. Anurima Bhargava, a civil rights lawyer and former member of the U.S. Department of Justice, encouraged future applicants to confidently highlight their racial identity when applying to colleges.
“Diversity is still a pursuit that universities can undertake. You can still share your stories, including those about your racial experiences, identity, or background,” she stated during a discussion hosted by Whiteboard Advisors, a research and consulting firm. “The question lies in how universities will account for that, but students can still share these types of stories.”
Jeff Selingo, a journalist specializing in higher education who had extensive access to college admissions officers, mentioned that the next step for these decision-makers is to determine how to handle essays that touch on race.
Legacy admissions, favoring applicants with family ties, are under consideration by college officials. Progressive scholar Richard Kahlenberg predicts some prestigious colleges will abandon it since race can no longer be a factor in admissions.
Previously, affirmative action led to racial diversity, but not necessarily socioeconomic diversity. Studies revealed that over half of Harvard’s racially diverse students came from the top 10% of the country’s income distribution. Additionally, 43% of white admits in 2019 had legacy connections or affiliations.
Some highly selective universities, even in states banning affirmative action, have already discontinued legacy admissions. These include UC Berkeley, UCLA, Texas A&M University, and the University of Georgia.
President Biden, while criticizing the court’s decision, has directed the Education Department to analyze practices that foster inclusivity and diversity, challenging legacy admissions and other systems that reinforce privilege instead of providing equal opportunities.
Is there a shift towards utilizing affirmative action in recruitment?
According to Forrest Stuart, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Lafayette College, colleges will now have a responsibility to recruit from a wide range of communities at the beginning of the admissions process. Stuart emphasizes the importance of building a diverse applicant pool, stating that the recent decision does not prohibit ensuring representation from all backgrounds. At Lafayette College, partnerships with community-based organizations have been established under Stuart’s leadership to ensure students from underrepresented backgrounds have an opportunity to apply.
Stuart believes that this affirmative action-like approach to recruitment, which focuses on casting a wide net and attracting a diverse pool of applicants, will gain traction as colleges strive to achieve diversity on campus without considering race in the actual admissions process. He asserts that by choosing from a broader applicant base, the task of ensuring diversity becomes more manageable for institutions like Lafayette College.
President Biden also encourages colleges to foster diversity by taking into account applicants’ family income, upbringing, and their experiences with hardship and discrimination, including racial discrimination. This broader perspective in admissions considerations aims to build a class that encompasses a variety of backgrounds and life experiences.
Should counselors urge colleges to convey a fresh message to students?
In the absence of proactive measures such as diversifying applicant pools, concerns arise among educators that many prospective students who would have embraced affirmative action may now opt out, deeming it an unworthy endeavor. This worrisome sentiment is echoed by Jill Cook, Executive Director of the American School Counselors Association, who has been receiving numerous inquiries.
Counselors fear that students of color might forgo applying to their dream or reach schools, convinced they won’t secure admission. Moreover, there is a genuine apprehension that some students may choose to abstain from pursuing higher education altogether, perceiving it as an inhospitable environment. This sentiment is exacerbated by legislative efforts to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in colleges, which only serve to further erode the allure of campus life.
Conversely, there are high school counselors who harbor concerns of a different nature. They worry that students may go to extreme lengths, overburdening themselves by applying to an excessive number of institutions due to the perceived diminishing chances of admission following the court’s ruling. This stems from the fear that they may be inadvertently narrowing their options in an already fiercely competitive landscape.
David Hawkins, Chief Education and Policy Officer for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, vows to persist in urging high school counselors to facilitate meetings between students and admissions officers at their respective schools of interest.
Hawkins emphasizes that colleges actively seek out a diverse range of applicants and assures students that the recent decision should not deter them from pursuing their aspirations. Although swimming against the current may appear disheartening, he affirms that colleges remain committed to discovering and welcoming talented students.
Yet, it is inevitable that some students will interpret this message in an extreme manner. Allen Koh, founder and CEO of Cardinal Education, an educational consulting firm catering to affluent clientele in California, shares his observations of predominantly white clients relocating to states like Montana and Wyoming, believing it grants them a geographic advantage in elite university admissions.
Harvard and other institutions label these states as “sparse country” or by various other names. Koh explains that when considering the sparse population associated with these regions, the pool of prospective students is comparably small. Consequently, students from these areas gain a significant advantage in the eyes of these universities.
Is there truly a viable alternative to what the court invalidated?
According to education experts, the recent ruling suggests that universities may experience a decline in diversity. While the court acknowledges the significance of diversity in higher education, it has left open the possibility for institutions to pursue alternative measures. However, implementing these measures could be a time-consuming and costly process, with results that may not materialize for years, if at all.
Jennifer McAward, an associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, explains, “These alternative measures will require significant investment and a considerable amount of time before any positive outcomes can be observed. In the interim, we may witness a substantial decrease in racial diversity among highly selective universities.”
To illustrate the potential impact, some refer to the example of California, where voters passed a proposition in 1996 that banned race-conscious college admissions. Despite numerous outreach initiatives, the University of California system has struggled to restore enrollment levels that reflect the diversity of the state.
In a written submission to the Supreme Court last summer, UC system officials noted, “This disparity is particularly pronounced at UC’s most selective campuses, where African American, Native American, and Latinx students are underrepresented and frequently report feeling racially isolated.”
Furthermore, it is important to recognize that even with race-conscious admissions policies in place for several years, nationwide Black enrollment in colleges has declined over time.
Do admissions at elite colleges inevitably seem arbitrary after Ending Affirmative Action?
According to Mitchell Chang, a distinguished professor at UCLA specializing in higher education and organizational change, as well as Asian American studies, the recently made decision regarding college admissions is unlikely to foster a perception of fairness. In his view, even without considering race as a factor in admissions, prestigious institutions like the Ivy League and other elite schools will not suddenly increase their student intake. These universities, known for their highly selective practices, maintain a tradition of accepting only a small fraction of applicants, often enrolling just a few hundred students. Consequently, the overall numbers and percentages of successful candidates will remain unchanged.
Chang further emphasizes that discontent is bound to persist among individuals who, despite being highly qualified, find themselves denied admission. In the intricate process of selecting from an exceptionally talented pool of applicants, the line between acceptance and rejection becomes exceedingly thin, almost resembling an arbitrary distinction. This predicament is akin to being caught in a maze of exceptional individuals, where the final outcome is influenced by various subjective factors and minute differences.
To illustrate this situation, consider a scenario where a multitude of skilled musicians audition for a prestigious orchestra, all demonstrating exceptional talent. In the end, only a limited number of musicians can be accepted. While the removal of race-conscious admissions might create a superficial impression of fairness, the underlying challenges of selecting from an extraordinarily gifted pool of candidates would remain. Consequently, there will always be individuals who possess the necessary qualifications but, due to the inherent subjectivity of the process, do not secure admission. The intricate nature of this selection process makes it difficult to establish a definitive criterion for acceptance, leaving room for perceptions of arbitrariness and an enduring sense of dissatisfaction.
In conclusion, Mitchell Chang highlights the limited impact that the recent decision regarding college admissions will have on promoting a perception of equity. Prestigious institutions, renowned for their selective practices, are unlikely to significantly increase their student intake even if race-conscious admissions are removed. The complex nature of selecting from a pool of highly qualified applicants gives rise to a situation where the difference between acceptance and rejection appears almost arbitrary. This scenario is akin to navigating a labyrinth filled with exceptionally talented individuals, wherein the final outcome is influenced by subjective factors and minute distinctions. Thus, despite efforts to create a fairer admissions process, there will always be deserving candidates who, due to the inherent complexities involved, may not receive the coveted offer of admission.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, affirmative action policies have come to an end, which has significant implications for students.
With the end of affirmative action, college admissions processes may undergo changes in evaluating applicants, potentially impacting students’ chances of admission.
The end of affirmative action raises concerns about the access and representation of historically marginalized groups in educational institutions, which could affect opportunities for underrepresented students.
In the absence of affirmative action, some institutions may adopt alternative strategies, such as socioeconomic-based admissions or diversity initiatives, to promote inclusivity and diversity among students.
Students may need to explore other avenues, such as leveraging their individual achievements, seeking scholarships, and engaging in extracurricular activities to enhance their chances of securing admission or scholarships in the absence of affirmative action.