Comments on the US Supreme Court Decision on Case No. 20-1199, "Affirmative Action"
Updated: Jul 20
The recent supreme court ruling in the US on college admissions and Affirmative Action has sparked passionate conversation here about the impact on students of color applying to university and on the quest for true diversity on US college campuses.
The actual impact of the ruling will, of course, take time to reveal itself. In the meantime, and given the possible implications of the court’s decision, we asked our seasoned college consultant Grant Calder to share his perspective with us. Grant has worked with US colleges and universities for many decades, in addition to being an American History teacher, and has guided students of all backgrounds to higher education through all kinds of political and social climates; it is therefore surprisingly reassuring to read his take on how little the ruling may actually mean in the big picture.
We will undoubtedly revisit the topic in the coming months, so please consider Grant’s comments (below) an initial foray into the topic and one that we hope will provide a helpful perspective.
On June 29th, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. vs. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The opinion, also a response to the UNC Chapel Hill case, finds that race-conscious admission violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional.
However, the court does allow colleges to consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university."
A few observations from our long experience in working with admissions offices across the country -
1. The decision will have virtually no impact on the large majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. that already admit most of their applicants. They are not turning down “better-qualified” students in order to admit others from less well-represented racial or ethnic groups on their campuses.
2. At the relative handful of institutions with the most competitive applicant pools, there may be some change in the make-up of incoming classes. But even if the percentage of students of color who attend these so-called “top schools" declines to some degree, there will continue to be plenty of opportunity for qualified candidates to attend many other excellent colleges and universities. Overall enrollment has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and the longer-term trends strongly suggest that there will be more spaces than students for the foreseeable future.
3. In anticipation of the Court's decision, some institutions have already been considering ways in which they might refocus and strengthen their efforts to attract students from the widest possible range of backgrounds and experiences. In the short run, they may be reluctant to describe those efforts in too much detail for fear of sparking additional legal challenges, but initiatives such as the "socioeconomic disadvantage scale” (SED) are already showing promise.
4. The Court’s striking down of race-conscious admissions does seem to be adding support to the push for ending another type of Affirmative Action known as “legacy admissions” through which applicants with family ties to a particular college or university receive extra consideration. Most of the institutions with selective admissions take note of applicants' legacy status though, in recent years, a few have announced an end to the practice and some others are likely to follow.
5. As discussed in an earlier Bennett College Blog post, many colleges and universities will continue to be strongly “affirmative” for males. So far, no one seems to know exactly what else to do about the dearth of qualified male applicants. And Affirmative Action for athletes, a much less defensible practice, also seems set to remain the standard.
Affirmative Action in the specific sense of race-conscious admissions was never intended to be permanent. So the debate is really about how long is long enough. And the Supreme Court's decision need not signal the end of it.
Grant has worked in College Consulting and Admissions Counseling for over 30 years and is Director of College Counseling at a private Quaker school in Philadelphia, where he also teaches American History. He provides expert consulting in Bennett’s college and university division, working with students and writing blogs for Bennett College Consulting.
Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancyhas worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.