U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action in College Admissions!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

Previously, the Supreme Court had allowed the use of race in admissions in decisions reaching back to 1978. And it had twice upheld race-conscious college admissions programs in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016.

Now, however, with a six-justice conservative majority, the justices overturned admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Leaders of scores of universities said Thursday that they were disappointed by what they see as a blow to diversity. Yet many also voiced optimism that they would find new ways to admit more Black and Hispanic students, despite evidence that eliminating the practice often leads to steep enrollment decreases among them.

President Joe Biden said he disagreed with the decision and asked the Education Department to explore policies that could help colleges build diverse student bodies. He also pushed against policies like legacy preferences — admissions boosts given to the children of alumni — that tend to help white, wealthy students.

“We should never allow the country to walk away from the dream upon which it was founded,” Biden told reporters. “We need a new path forward, a path consistent with the law that protects diversity and expands opportunity.”

Yet evidence from states that previously outlawed affirmative action show it will be a daunting challenge.

As an alternative to affirmative action, colleges from California to Florida have tried a range of strategies to achieve the diversity they say is essential to their campuses. Many have given greater preference to low-income families. Others started admitting top students from every community in their state.

But years of experimentation — often prompted by state-level bans on considering race in admissions — left no clear solution. In states requiring race-neutral policies, many colleges saw enrollment drops among Black and Hispanic students, especially at selective colleges that historically have been mostly white.

Given the current makeup of the Court, this decision was expected.  It will be a major blow for diversity in our colleges and our society as a whole.



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