‘It Is a Moment for Innovation’ — Experts Give Perspectives on What’s Next After SCOTUS Decision on Race-Conscious Admissions Policies

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As the higher education community reels from the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) decision on race-conscious admissions policies, experts from NASFAA and other higher education organizations gathered on Wednesday to discuss the implications of the decision and provide some next steps that institutions can take. 

The webinar was hosted in partnership with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and EducationCounsel. 

In late June, SCOTUS ruled on two cases — Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard University and SFFA v. the University of North Carolina (UNC) — that race can not be considered in college and university admissions. The decision, though not unexpected, sent shockwaves across the higher education community, as it struck down more than 40 years of precedent. 

Art Coleman, managing partner and co-founder of EducationCounsel, debriefed attendees on the specifics of the SCOTUS decision, which ruled that Harvard and UNC may not consider an applicant's racial status in admissions to advance the educational benefits of diversity. Coleman stressed that during the webinar, he and the other panelists were not giving legal advice, but rather providing a perspective on what institutions can do next. 

Coleman stressed the importance for institutions to carefully consider what both the court did and did not do in its decision. Coleman said SCOTUS determined in its decision that the educational benefits of diversity, which were previously recognized by the court, are no longer compelling enough to justify race-conscious policies; the “classification” of race was “used as a negative” and impermissibly “stereotyped” applicants based on race; and admissions programs “lacked a logical end point” to considering race in admissions, among other things. 

However, Coleman noted that the decision specifically did not address the distinction between financial aid and admissions in terms of using race-conscious policies, whether institutions could use pooling and matching to administer aid, how institutions conduct outreach and recruit diverse students, how institutions collect data on race, and more. 

Coleman noted that attendees can read through EducationCounsel’s preliminary guidance on the SCOTUS decision for more information. 

Even though Coleman stressed the importance of carefully examining the decision, some institutions have already begun making calls to stop considering race in scholarships. Coleman urged attendees to work together with their institution’s legal counsel and other policy leaders on campus to follow their mission.

“We should be thinking boldly,” Coleman said. “We should think about recalibrating the entire array of policies and practices that may be diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused to assure we're meeting the mark of our long-standing institutional commitments. It is a moment for innovation, something that higher education is known for, and does exceptionally well. We should bring that mindset to the question of enrollment practices, and more, as it affects particularly students of color in light of our broader equity goals.” 

Other panelists on the webinar shared perspective on how the SCOTUS decision could impact their organization, institution, or state. Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, the recently retired vice provost of enrollment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said this moment is an opportunity for institutions to take a look at the work other schools have done in states that ban affirmative action. Race-conscious admission practices are already banned in California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Idaho. 

Vern Granger, director of admissions at the University of Connecticut, noted states that ban race-conscious admissions have seen declines in applications and enrollment from underserved racial and ethnic groups. 

“It is so important for us as institutions to really amplify our commitment to diversity,” Granger said. “You heard us talk about a number of the things that we are able to do as institutions and there are still a number of tactics [and] strategies that we can employ to build our classes of diverse students.” 

Angel Pérez, CEO of NACAC, echoed that sentiment and stressed the importance of communicating with students and families about the SCOTUS decision and concerns. He noted that some high school counselors have also expressed concern that potential students may not feel that higher education is for them following the decision.

“We're going to have to double down on our outreach efforts, on our messaging to students, reminding them that, of course, college campuses want them,” Pérez said. “I think your communication strategy is going to be pretty key.”

Copeland-Morgan, along with the other panelists, also encouraged attendees to not overreact to the decision. 

“It is very common for legal counsels to become extremely conservative when new policies and laws pass,” she said. “That's okay, those first reactions are very important. But don't make it your only time that you come together with legal counsel to discuss those things."

During the question-and-answer portion of the webinar, some attendees asked how institutions could use pooling and matching to administer aid to students. 

Derek Kindle, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed to the university’s Bucky’s Tuition Promise program, which covers tuition and fees through several different, smaller scholarships for students from families whose household adjusted gross income is $65,000 or less. 

Kindle explained that an institution could, for example, determine that every student within a certain expected family contribution, or EFC, range, will “get the same treatment” and have their tuition and fees covered. How the institution does that, however, may vary. 

“They might get it through the use of many different funds that are smaller that have very unique criteria,” Kindle said.

Another attendee asked how quickly institutions should reasonably expect to make changes over as a result of the SCOTUS decision. Coleman said that the first step is to speak with institutional leaders and legal counsel, but also encouraged attendees have a plan ready for the next admissions cycle.

“Let me just flag we are almost three weeks out from the court's decision,” Coleman said. “I won't tell you how many times I've already read it. But I'm still reading it and I'm still digesting it. And we're still debating even within our team at EducationCounsel about the implications. So it's complicated.”

The webinar will be available on-demand for NASFAA members to watch. Stay tuned to Today’s News for more updates on how institutions grapple with this SCOTUS decision. 


Publication Date: 7/20/2023

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