By Dr. Belinda Leon, Senior Advisor with USP – University Scholar Program
On June 29th, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) could no longer use a student’s race as a factor in determining admission to the college. Race is considered one of these categories: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.
Hispanic is not a race but is a related question that is asked related to race. Colleges and universities may ask a student’s race in an effort to build a freshman class that is diverse which enriches the college experience for all.
This practice would give a Black or Hispanic student an edge in being admitted to a school that uses race conscious admissions. However, the U.S. Supreme Court, by majority vote, decided that these types of admissions programs are discriminatory. In the specific case that was brought before the Supreme Court, it was decided that UNC’s considerations to Black and Hispanic applicants discriminated against White and Asian applicants and that Harvard was denying White and Asian applicants education opportunities.
Once the decision was made, schools across the country began changing their admissions policies to adhere to the ruling because if Harvard can’t do it, surely no other college can either. Note, the court’s decision stated that this ruling does not apply to military institutions of higher education.
Legal experts have been quick to point out that although a college cannot ask an applicant to identify their race, the student can reveal it through their application essay. The Supreme Court ruling specifically stated, “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise” (as cited in the Wall Street Journal, by Belkin & Tagami, July 6, 2023). Colleges and universities have started to change their essay prompts to encourage students to share life experiences which would reveal their race.
This Supreme Court’s decision also allows for the Common Application to keep their prompt which states, “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” Critics of the legal decision believe that through the essay, students can communicate the challenges a minority student endured to reach college as well as allow for the school to achieve their desired diversity. Saul (June 30, 3023) specifically stated in the New York Times that the court’s decision “made a point of noting that students could highlight their racial or ethnic backgrounds in the college essay” which opens the door to a new strategy and technique that will change what and how students write their college essays going forward if they want their race to be known during the admissions process.
There is also the question of whether this decision by the Supreme Court will also affect race consideration in awarding a scholarship. Will a college be able to offer a scholarship specifically for a Hispanic student? Whether or not these types of scholarships can continue to be offered is still unclear, but the Wall Street Journal (Belkin & Tagami, July 6, 2023) reported that in an effort to avoid issues with the law, the University of Kentucky and the University of Missouri “decided to remove race as criteria in their scholarship programs.”
At Western Illinois University, approximately 300 students received an email notifying them that they lost a $1000 scholarship because the University could no longer offer a scholarship for “students of color.” Despite the University’s concerns that they would be in violation of the supreme court decision, students’ backlash quickly led the University to re-instate the scholarship. It is feared that other colleges will follow suit in an abundance of caution and political pressure.
There are also many schools that offer “bridge” programs that may also be affected by this ruling. Bridge programs are special sessions offered to mostly first-generation college students to introduce them to college life and offer support during their undergraduate study. Historically, most students who are the first to attend college in their families are predominantly from minority groups. These programs are vital for students to feel comfortable on campus and for learning to maneuver their way through school.
Bridge programs may even be the reason a student decides to attend a particular university! As reported in Inside Higher Ed (July 24, 2023), Art Coleman from Education Counsel LLC stated, “if you’ve got this very distinct line of experience or avenue for enrichment that is unique to a certain cohort, and racial status is part of the selection, I think that’s vulnerable.” This belief led Marymount University, Utah Valley University, University of Chicago, and the University of California – Berkeley to reword the eligibility criteria for summer programs that were originally intended for Hispanic or Black students. However, Olin College (an engineering school), continues to offer a free fly-in program for underrepresented students who are interested in attending.
Their Director of Admissions, Susan Harley Brisson, commented to Inside Higher Ed (July 24, 2023), that their program was “designed for students who are from backgrounds that have been historically excluded from engineering—Latinos, Black students, and also for women.”
How far reaching this legal decision will extend is still being discussed and carefully watched. A proposed alternative that has surfaced in discussions is that instead of race, colleges should consider a student’s socio-economic status to understand what options the student had in preparing for college admissions. The New York Times (Mervosh & Closson, July 1, 2023) pointed out that those colleges that have not considered race for some time in their admissions decisions have failed to attract a diverse pool of students because of the school’s academic rigor and financial limitations for students. Mervosh and Clossom stated that “the biggest barriers are practical: applying to, paying for, and completing college” (New York Times, July 1, 2023). However, it was further stated by Charles that, “recruiting poor kids won’t lead to more Black and Latino students on college campuses because the sheer number of white children living in poverty is so high” (Chronicle of Higher Education, July 12, 2023).
In fact, Boeckenstedt added that in the California State University system which has not used race or ethnicity in admissions reviews since 1996, “the struggles of people of color face because of their ethnicity is no longer meaningful” as evidenced by the drastically lowered enrollment of students of color (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 30, 2023).
The effect of this change in college admissions may not be great on the typical city of Doral high school student. If your student is attending a local college, odds are they will continue to be accepted at past rates. However, if your student is attempting to get into an upper tier university or an out of state school, your student may have lost a few points by not being able to identify as Hispanic. Regardless, students will have to continue focusing on getting good grades, taking advanced classes, exceling in extra-curricular activities, and producing outstanding essays. In other words, the college admissions process continues to be competitive and multi-faceted. Sigh.