Study: Colleges Face Loss Of Racial Diversity If Supreme Court Scraps Affirmative Action

The conservative-dominated high court could soon ban race-conscious college admissions.

Two pending U.S. Supreme Court cases could decide the future of Affirmative Action in higher education. But with race-conscious college admissions in jeopardy, a study released March 28 warns that racial and ethnic diversity at universities could decline even if institutions give more weight to factors such as the socio-economic class of applicants.

“Without race-conscious admissions, the role selective colleges play in creating equal opportunity in our society is likely to diminish,” Zack Mabel, co-author of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study, said.

Colleges would have to “fundamentally alter their admissions practices” to achieve diversity, particularly among Blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous students if the U.S. Supreme Court bans affirmative action in college admissions, the report titled “Race-Conscious Affirmative Action: What’s Next” states.

Last fall, the high court heard oral arguments in cases that challenges affirmative action admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which use race and ethnicity among other factors.

Analysis: Supreme Court Begins Hearing Affirmative Action Challenges And The Stakes Are Clear And High

In the Harvard case, a group called Students for Fair Admission accused the school of holding Asian-American students to a higher educational standard than it does African American or Hispanic students. “Harvard engages in racial balancing and ignores race-neutral alternatives also proves that Harvard does not use race as a last resort. All of this makes intervention that much more urgent,” the court filing for the plaintiff reads.

A Boston judge and later the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed Harvard in their argument that race can be used to create a more broad and diverse mix of students on campus. Harvard’s view of the 1978 Bakke case is shared by many as a successful application of affirmative action.

With the University of North Carolina case, the Students for Fair Admission group claims that the school discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants by favoring admitting Black, Hispanic and Native American students. “The question is not whether race-neutral alternatives will change an institution, or whether the university finds them painful or philosophically disagreeable. The question is whether race-neutral alternatives ‘could promote the substantial interest about as well and at tolerable administrative expense,’ ” the plaintiff says in its filing.

Many experts predict that the conservative majority will rule against the colleges. If that happens, the landscape of college admissions would change dramatically, and many schools fear losing gains in diversity that have been hard-fought over the years.

An alternative admissions process that includes socio-economic status would achieve a high level of racial and ethnic diversity if colleges eliminate preferences for legacy applicants, student athletes, those with ties to donors and other such factors that mostly benefit white, affluent applicants, the study found.

At the same time, schools would have to expand their recruitment of high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds for a class-based alternative to produce a similar outcome to race-conscious admissions, according to the researchers.

“The barriers to educational opportunity that stem from race and class are connected but distinct. As a result, when it comes to the goal of equalizing college access and success across advantaged and disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups and across advantaged and disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, there is no good substitute for the joint consideration of both race and socioeconomic status in college admissions,” Mabel stated.

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