Six weeks after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, the Department of Education released a comprehensive directive to help institutions understand exactly which admission practices violate the Fourteenth Amendment and which are perfectly fine to pursue.
In the days and weeks following the ruling, colleges and universities began interpreting the law as they saw fit. The University of Missouri system banned race as a consideration for millions of dollars in scholarships. Additionally, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto interpreted the Court’s ruling restricting race as a consideration in both admissions and scholarships.
At a higher education summit in the fallout of the ruling, Walter Kimbrough, former president of Dillard University (La.), likened institutional leaders’ rash decision-making to cutting limbs off before being told to.
While the Department’s ruling did not address race-based financial aid, it did advise institutions to provide students with need-based financial support. The letter focused on setting the record on what colleges can and can’t do to continue pursuing diverse student cohorts in the admissions space.
“We stand ready to support institutions that recognize that such diversity is core to their commitment to excellence, and that pursue lawful steps to promote diversity and full inclusion,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Department of Justice and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon for the Department of Education in an introductory letter.
- Admit students solely on the basis of their race, regardless of one’s attention to how race or ethnicity might have influenced one’s character and fit to the university in question.
- Collect demographic data purely to influence one’s decision on admitting a given student.
- Collect demographic data to retroactively adjust admissions priorities based on admitted class’ racial and ethnic makeup.
- Utilize a holistic application review process to consider how an applicant’s experience as a racial or ethnic minority has developed their character, ultimately positioning them to contribute to campus culture in a positive and unique way. For example, a student’s account of overcoming prejudice as the only student of South Asian descent in a small rural high school is fair game. While considering race in and of itself is unconstitutional, examining how race molded an applicant, such as by developing courage, motivation or determination, is permissible.
- Reexamine admission preferences, like legacy status or donor affiliation, that help persist historical inequities in higher education by preferencing certain groups of students in spite of merit or potential.
The Department reaffirmed that the ruling strictly dealt with admissions space and did not inhibit institutions from their commitment to curating a diverse student body. Thus, they may double down on their commitment to equity by seeking the admission and graduation of diverse student bodies.
- Direct student outreach efforts to districts, schools and geographic locations that predominantly serve underrepresented students or those of color.
- Develop partnerships and pathway programs with K12 institutions in underserved communities to maximize student potential, such as by helping improve access to high-quality advanced courses.
- Continue offering cultural centers and race-related student support groups that celebrate diverse cultures and promote student belonging, so long as it is open to all.
- Collect demographic data to refine student outreach and recruitment programs, ensure one’s admissions practices are not discriminatory and improve student programming needs based on racial discrepancies in student retention and graduation rates.