Yesterday, the Supreme Court delivered its long-anticipated decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, in which it ruled that affirmative action in the college admissions process violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Colleges and universities will no longer be permitted to consider race in the admissions process.
What Does This Mean?
I have spent the last few months visiting with admissions officers at a variety of colleges, public and private, in anticipation of today’s Supreme Court ruling. While every admissions officer with whom I have spoken has communicated that their institution will follow the Supreme Court’s decision, I have not heard a single opinion that disagrees with Lawrence S. Bacow, President of Harvard University, who wrote to alumni, “…to affirm the fundamental principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.” Although historically rival institutions, on this decision, Yale and Harvard remain united; Yale President, Peter Salovey, upholds Yale’s belief that, “A student body that is diverse across every dimension, including race, improves academic outcomes for all students, enhances the range of scholarship and teaching on campus, improves critical thinking, and advances the understanding and study of complex topics.”
So, while the question of race may be removed from the college application, I do not personally believe that the decision process will be significantly altered. When I visited Tufts a few weeks ago, the admissions officer plainly stated that their team is not interested in rank ordering applicants by grades and test scores and filling their freshman spots with the top of the list. She explained that, once they know the student can thrive in their academic environment and has the ability to successfully graduate, they will turn their attention to the other ways students will contribute to the school’s community: talents, skills, curiosities, community impact, and personal experiences. In my opinion, these are influenced by a variety of factors, including geography, socio-economic status, gender identity, religious and political beliefs and, yes, ethnicity and race.
What will change?
Access: With a focus on “higher quality” students, meaning those with higher GPAs, tests scores and more competitive extra-curricular activities, colleges are more likely to admit a greater proportion of students who come from affluent families because they are the students who typically have access to better high schools, academic tutors, test prep partners, impressive internships, and costly extra-curricular opportunities. This growing chasm of access will be especially true of colleges and universities that practice “need-blind” admissions decisions. Without knowledge of a student’s race or financial need, schools like Harvard and Yale are more likely to admit classes of homogeneous students, breaching the core educational philosophies and institutional values that Presidents Bacow and Salovey are committed to uphold for the benefit of all students, regardless of race or socio-economic status. For schools that practice “need-aware” admissions decisions, the students who are not wealthy enough to pay the full sticker price of $300K across 4 years at a private college, but are also not poor enough to require full need, will likely be disproportionately disadvantaged as many admissions officers will begin to rely on financial need as a proxy for racial diversity. This “squished in the middle” scenario applies to the majority of students who are already feeling the burden of “too rich to be helped but not rich enough to feel no pain.” Now, in addition to the financial burden of being squished will be the added challenge of the admissions squish.
Transparency: Without the ability to ask demographic questions in the application, transparency into the status of racial diversity will suffer. Although colleges may be able to ask and report demographic statistics after a student is admitted, they are prohibited from asking this question to applicants and therefore, will be unable to determine how effective DEI efforts are or whether or not to continue investing in them.
Applications: Although higher education is not typically known for its agility and ability to pivot in the face of changing environments, I do anticipate there will be a flurry of activity among admissions offices across the nation as they decide how to approach the 2023-2024 application season. With the removal of the race boxes from page one of the application, I expect we will see the addition or modification of supplemental short answer and essay questions that will attempt to uncover the diverse perspectives and experiences that colleges are still committed to embracing in their student body. And, coupled with the advent of ChatGPT, this may result in decreased reliance on college essays entirely. Instead, I predict we may see an increased importance of non-written submissions, such as timed video questions and interviews, where the admissions officer can see the applicant without the need to ask the student’s race and hear the student’s thoughts without interference from artificial intelligence that may “enhance” a student’s application.
How We Will Support Students?
At The Mauler Institute, we believe every student brings a rich set of experiences, talents and viewpoints that will inevitably add to the learning and growth of their future classmates and will enrich the elaborate tapestry of their future school communities. Simply put, nothing has changed in how we will approach the college application. We will continue to do what we have always done. We will find opportunities throughout the college application process to illuminate what makes each student unique, special, and different from every other talented student who is applying to their target schools and will communicate – emphatically — why any college would be lucky to have them join their incoming class and community for life.
President, The Mauler Institute