Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2025
Following the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, higher education institutions face challenging decisions in their admissions process. Although this may be a frightening time for many, California and Michigan have eliminated affirmative action years prior. These states may provide some insight as to how universities may maintain diversity. We may not see the implications of this decision until years to come. However, universities have the opportunity to collectively work together in order to maintain diverse student bodies and better represent the diverse individuals who help compose the United States of America.
The history of affirmative action
The roots of affirmative action go back to President John F. Kennedy’s administration which established a committee to address workplace discrimination. There, he required federal contractors to take affirmative action to ensure equality without regard to race, religion, national origin, and eventually even added gender as a protected category. His successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, expanded the scope of affirmative action. Eventually, it was Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that eventually set the parameters for affirmative action. This case ruled that minority status could be used as a factor of admissions in education. Justice Powell’s controlling opinion mentioned that a goal of this decision was to maintain a diverse student body in education. The decision in Grutter v. Bollinger confirmed that considering race in the educational admissions process as one of the many factors is constitutional.
What California and Michigan teach us
Notably, the ruling will alter the standards and procedures in which admissions counselors undergo when reading an application. An applicant’s race will no longer be a factor for admittance to a university. When thinking about what the future holds, two states could help us with this thought. California and Michigan have eliminated affirmative action years earlier through state ballot initiatives.
In California, the state spent over $500 million on outreach programs to underserved minority students. This helped the enrollment of black students increase after historic lows at many California public universities. However, California’s more elite public universities, like UC Berkeley, struggle to maintain diversity amongst its students. Similarly, Michigan struggles to maintain its diversity at elite schools like the University of Michigan. Although the state’s black population is 14%, the percentage of black students attending the university is 4%.
The question now becomes how will schools alter their standards and procedures to follow this ruling while also maintaining a diverse student population? California has demonstrated it may be possible but only with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on outreach programs. Even with these outreach programs, elite universities, such as Northwestern and the University of Chicago, may even have a more challenging time maintaining this diversity.
The future of admissions in higher education
The thought of what the future holds is frightening for many, including those who rightly argue that other forms of affirmative action continue to exist. These include attending elite high schools, having SAT/ACT tutors available for students of certain socioeconomic status, and university legacies. However, this is the time for universities throughout the country to collectively come together, support one another, and think of creative ways to maintain diversity because of the Court’s decision. They must alter the standards and procedures of their admissions process while maintaining a diverse student body.
Before the Court’s recent decision, the different forms of affirmative actions mentioned in the previous paragraph, such as university legacies and donor-based admissions, were still thriving. However, as these forms of affirmative action are still in place after the decision, people argue that this will leave the playing field uneven and put prospective students of color at a disadvantage. Some groups have even said with this uneven playing field, the U.S. Education Department should declare the practice of university legacy as illegal. That effort joins another campaign urging the alumni of 30 prestigious colleges to withhold donations until their schools end legacy admissions. “That initiative, led by Ed Mobilizer, also targets Harvard and other Ivy League schools. President Joe Biden suggested last week that universities should rethink the practice, saying legacy admissions “expand privilege instead of opportunity.”
Although California and Michigan have struggled; what makes the United States great is the strength we have as a united country. It will be through united power and collective effort that I hope to see diversity. Whether its a first-generation college student from a town no one has heard of before, a legacy student from North Carolina who attended a boarding school throughout high school, and a refugee from the Middle East, all should be welcomed as classmates at universities throughout the country.