US Colleges Plan for Court’s Decision on Affirmative Action

31 May 2023

American colleges and universities are expecting an important decision from the U.S. Supreme Court involving a policy called affirmative action.

The decision will come by the end of June.

Affirmative action generally describes the idea that it is good for society to favor people who come from groups thought to be disadvantaged or discriminated against. Colleges and employers often think about affirmative action issues when making decisions.

FILE - Activists demonstrate as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a pair of cases that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions, in Washington, Oct. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - Activists demonstrate as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a pair of cases that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions, in Washington, Oct. 31, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

College and university officials started considering race a lot in the 1960s and 1970s. They wanted the racial and ethnic backgrounds of students at the schools where they worked to match those of America's high school students.

Last year, the nation's highest court agreed to hear the appeal by a group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The group accused the universities of discriminating against applicants based on race in violation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution.

Legal experts believe the Supreme Court will say colleges and universities can no longer consider race when choosing students.

Past experience

The Supreme Court first ruled in 1978 that race could be considered in college admission. But in the same case, it banned setting aside a percentage or number of students for admission based on race alone. In 2003, the court again permitted race to be considered to create "a diverse educational environment."

In 1998, voters in California approved a measure barring public colleges and universities from considering race in admitting students.

In 2020, a University of California, Berkeley doctoral student released a paper that found a drop in the number of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students who were accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Berkeley. A UCLA law professor disputed those findings.

However, Californians again voted to approve the ban in 2020.

Value of diversity

Some American universities believe an important part of the educational experience includes meeting and going to class with a diverse group of people.

So those who work on college admissions are thinking of ways to keep their student body diverse without asking students' skin color or family backgrounds.

Seth Allen is the head of admissions at Pomona College in California. He said, "We cannot afford as a nation to (go back) on our goals to create an educated and equitable society." He said universities need to work together to be sure they are not "furthering the enrollment gap among different groups of students."

Schools are thinking of ways to advertise themselves to minority groups. They have made applications less costly for families who do not have much money. And they have promised to make stronger connections with high schools and community colleges that have mostly minority students.

At Rice University, in Houston, Texas, school leaders want to think more about the writing examples that students send in with their application. They believe paying more attention to the written answers will help them choose a diverse group of students.

The president at Skidmore College in New York state said the school will make good connections with high school counselors. Those counselors will then advise students to apply.

Universities are already making it easier for students to apply. Many schools will consider students who do not send scores from tests such as the SAT or ACT. They are also trying to increase financial awards for students who might not usually consider a costly university.

The school leaders who talked with the Reuters news agency said they expect the Supreme Court's decision to prompt appeals and new legal cases.

Danielle Holley is a legal expert who is currently the head of the law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Later this year, she will start as the president of Mount Holyoke University in Massachusetts.

Holley said the court's decision will start "a whole new generation of lawsuits."

Writing workshops

Yvonne Berumen is vice president of admissions at Pitzer College in California. She said her group may invite students who do not normally think of Pitzer to an essay workshop, with the hopes of getting them to apply.

Kent Devereaux is president of Goucher College in Maryland. He said organizations in low-income communities who identify students who could do well in college are going to be more important than before.

"We're seeing each year a bigger percentage of our students come from those...organizations," Devereaux said.

Even military schools, such as the U.S. Air Force Academy, are getting ready for the Supreme Court's decision. Colonel Arthur Primas, Jr. is the academy's admissions director. Primas said the plan is to visit schools in parts of the U.S. with a lot of minority students and ask them to apply. Students need to ask their local member of congress for a nomination if they want to go to the Air Force Academy.

Primas said the academy has a "long tradition of actively recruiting diverse candidates...but we're going to have to be really expansive."

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by Reuters.


Words in This Story

disadvantaged –adj. lacking money or education necessary to have a certain position in society

diverse –adj. made up of people different from each other

afford –v. to be able to pay for something

equitable –adj. dealing with someone equally with other people

enrollment –n. the process of being admitted to a school

gap –n. something that appears to be a mismatch in the numbers, percentages or rates related to one group compared to another group

counselor –n. a person who gives advice about educational issues

encourage –v. to cause people to want to do something

prompt –v. to cause to happen

recruit –v. to persuade people to join a group, especially the military or business organizations

expansive –adj. to do something widely; to cover or include many things