Federal policies have allowed
action programs in higher education since a Supreme Court ruling in 1978.
The Court has established guidelines that allow race to be considered as part of a holistic examination of the plaintiff, but cannot be the determining factor. These programs aim to increase the diversity of student bodies with people of color and have been successful for many selective colleges and universities.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has seen several cases challenging the legality of affirmative action in admissions, leading to seven separate rulings on the issue. The majority of those decisions upheld the original ruling, but that could all change this year as two more cases have been placed on trial after being brought to lower courts in 2014.
Harvard and UNCChapel Hill have been accused of discrimination by the nonprofit group Students for Fair Admissions, and experts expect the conservative court to issue rulings that effectively end affirmative action in admissions to the university.
What does this mean for higher education?
Just look at states that have already passed laws that prevent public institutions from using affirmative action. Currently, nine states have such legislation: Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington. California was the first state to ban race-based admission in 1996, and Idaho is the newest member, in 2020.
Two large, well-known institutions, the University of California and the University of Michigan, reported on their experiences after the ban. In the two years since California’s restriction, UCLA found that its diversity had fallen to 3.93% of the student population. In 2006, only 1.92% of their incoming freshman class was made up of black individuals. Not in contrast, the University of Michigan saw its black undergraduate enrollment drop from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2021.
In this regard, Justin Driver of Yale Law comments that “despite incredibly valiant and sustained efforts to navigate the realities of a post-affirmative action world, flagship campuses in California and Michigan have failed to recruit members of marginalized racial groups”.
If the affirmative action in college admissions is reversed, the fallout felt by these two flagship institutions could become commonplace in higher education.
The Supreme Court began hearing the two cases brought by the students for fair admissions on October 31, 2022, but no verdict has yet been issued.
Colleges and universities across the United States are eagerly awaiting a decision.
Sarah Smith is the Cassville Crowder Campus Director. She can be reached at [email protected]