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US Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action: Developments & Trends


In early July, we shared our thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Students for Fair Admissions case. In the last several weeks, there have been some additional developments and ongoing trends worth noting:


1. A number of state legislatures are considering bills designed to restrict or end so-called legacy preferences in college admissions. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Congress. Supporters of efforts to end the practice of giving children and grandchildren of alumni special consideration tend to have been backers of race-conscious admissions and see the former as a means to make up some of the ground lost as a result of the Students for Fair Admissions decision ending the latter.


2. In the last month and a half colleges have been scrambling to adjust their applications and recruitment programs for this admissions cycle.


· We have already noticed changes in the supplemental essay prompts some of the more selective colleges are asking students to complete. Many of them take advantage of the opening left by the court to consider "an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life."


· At least one of the Ivies has changed its recommendation requirements. Applicants to the University of Pennsylvania may now submit either two teacher recommendations (the old standard) or one teacher recommendation and a second letter from some other person who could be an employer, coach, advisor, etc. This seems to be an attempt to give candidates an opportunity to present a wider range of supporting materials to the admissions committee and to make it easier for some students, who may not have two teacher recommenders, to submit completed applications.


3. The Students for Fair Admissions case has also led to more discussion about the advantages in the college admissions process enjoyed by students who attend private schools. And colleges with selective pools may be more conscious about adjusting for the effects of so-called "private school polish."


4. Just as important as the debates about what factors colleges should include (or not include) in evaluating their applicants are the continuing trickle of college closings, mostly small, private institutions, and the dramatic declines in the numbers of matriculating students at regional state universities. Pennsylvania's public institutions provide a striking example: since 2010, enrollment at Penn State University’s New Kensington campus, is down 47%, the Greater Allegheny campus is down 53%, The University of Pittsburgh's Johnstown Campus, its oldest and largest branch campus, is down 31%. Penn State's Shenango campus is down 61%. And rather than being outliers, these cases reflect trends visible across many state systems. The number one task for the large majority of public and private institutions is (and will remain) to find qualified and committed students regardless of their racial or ethnic identities or their legacy status. On any campus with declining enrollment, even the admission of recruited athletes according to less stringent academic standards does not prevent other better-qualified students from also being accepted.


Grant Calder


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.

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