Analysts Outline 5 Alternatives to Race-Conscious College Admission Policies Ahead of SCOTUS Decision

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

This week the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue a highly anticipated ruling that will determine the future of the legitimacy and usage of race-conscious admission policies.

In preparing for the court’s decision, the Urban Institute has provided an outline of five “race-neutral approaches” that institutions of higher education can use to bolster a diverse student body.

The analysts provide a history and evidence as to how bans on race-conscious admission policies, also referred to as affirmative action, have led to “declines in the admission and enrollment of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people.”

The brief goes on to warn that its proposed policies will not make up for a total ban on the race-conscious admissions policies but, taken together, could mitigate some of the losses made to future diversity efforts.

Topping the analysts' suggestions is to develop a “class-based admissions practice,” that would provide greater weight to applicants from less affluent socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet the brief warns that such a practice, in place of race-conscious policies, would not lead to the same level of racial diversity due to structural barriers people of color face, such as wealth disparities and forms of racial discrimination.

The analysts also suggest adopting a “percentage plan system” — similar to those developed in California, Florida, and Texas — which grants automatic admission to state universities for students that graduate within a certain top percentage of their class. This policy did show an increase in diversity at some schools, but was not as effective as race-conscious admission policies.

Schools could also consider increasing their targeted recruitment of students, particularly for those located in areas with greater racial diversity, the brief suggests. By using partnerships with underrepresented high schools, institutions of higher education can look to connect with students of color who in many instances are eligible for automatic admission based on their academic performance.

The final two suggestions concern removing barriers that have made it more difficult for students of color to access higher education.

The paper urges schools to ban legacy preferences in admissions, which has primarily benefited white students, and also suggests schools consider making standardized testing optional, which the authors argue could promote more equity in the admissions process.

“Research suggests colleges and universities — particularly selective ones — would experience a decrease in racial and ethnic diversity among their students if the Supreme Court ends race-based affirmative action because no single race-neutral admission policy has the same effect as race-conscious admissions,” the analysts write. “If overturned, returning to current diversity levels would require a commitment to adopting a combination of the strategies above, innovating these strategies, or developing new ones.”

It still remains unclear how the court will rule in the two challenges to race-conscious admission policies – Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard University and SFFA vs. the University of North Carolina –  but a decision could be delivered as soon as June 27.

For more details, members can refer back to NASFAA’s January webinar on the possible implications of the upcoming decisions, and stay tuned for a follow-up webinar on July 19 that will analyze the outcome of the final decision and provide recommended strategies moving forward.


Publication Date: 6/27/2023

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