Under a false banner of increasing fairness, the Supreme Court today changed the landscape of higher education by removing consideration of race in college admissions. The decision upends decades of legal precedent supporting the right of higher education institutions to consider student body diversity in making their admissions decisions and will have devastating consequences regarding the diversity of campuses across the nation.
Let us be clear, the legacy of racial exclusion still impacts students of color today. When colleges cannot take race into account, they struggle to assemble racially diverse student bodies. A 2022 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute notes, “In 1968 blacks were just over half (56.0 percent) as likely as whites to have a college degree, a situation that is essentially the same today (54.2 percent).” Predominantly white school districts collectively receive $23 billion more a year than predominantly nonwhite school districts, where Black students are less likely than white students to have access to college-preparatory-level math and science courses.
The decision’s impact will likely mimic the effects of California’s Proposition 209. At both UCLA and UC Berkeley, the percentages of African American and Latino students in the freshman class dropped by roughly half in the year after the proposition went into effect in 1996. At oral arguments October 2022, evidence was introduced of what Harvard University’s incoming class would look like if the school were to stop considering race after eliminating alumni and donor preferences and giving preference to low-income applicants. The result? African American student enrollment would decline by 32%.
Outlawing race-conscious admissions nationwide will deepen educational inequality, and it will have social costs, too. As Thurgood Marshall once argued, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”
In the Grutter v. Bollinger case before the Supreme Court in 2003, research was cited showing that student body diversity leads to important educational benefits, including improvements in intergroup contact and increased cross-racial interaction among students; reductions in prejudice; improvements in cognitive abilities, critical thinking skills, and self-confidence; greater civic engagement; and the enhancement of skills needed for professional development and leadership. The Court then ruled in favor of race-conscious admissions policies.
In light of the history of restricting Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other minoritized people from admission to American colleges and universities, we believe all students deserve a fair shot at pursuing their educational dreams. As we struggle to create learning environments that empower all students at all grade levels, higher education remains the ultimate space to assure equitable learning environments.
Race-conscious admissions must continue, potentially for generations to come.
The following organizations have co-signed this statement:
American Folklore Society
American Philosophical Association
American Sociological Association
Linguistic Society of America