In June, the Supreme Court voted in favor of effectively banning race-conscious admission programs at U.S. colleges and universities. Citing fears over dwindling student diversity, the Biden administration on Monday released new guidance on how K12 schools and higher ed institutions can work together to ensure a holistic application-review process while supporting traditionally underserved student groups.
“By partnering with school districts in underserved communities, supporting improved access to high-quality advanced courses, and investing time and resources into programs that identify and nurture students’ potential, colleges and universities can ensure that more students will be prepared to apply to colleges and universities, gain admission, succeed, and graduate,” wrote the U.S. departments of Education and Justice.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said during a call with reporters that SCOTUS’ decision gutted a decades-old tool used by colleges and universities to create equitable opportunities for their students, regardless of their backgrounds.
“When individual states have banned affirmative action in the past, fewer students of color applied and fewer students were admitted,” he said. “We cannot afford that kind of backsliding on a national scale.”
To mitigate such a risk, these federal departments are asking school districts and higher education institutions to invest more in programs and partnerships with an increased focus on those who are traditionally marginalized.
Furthermore, they assure colleges and universities that they can still take steps to ensure a holistic review process during the next application cycle, for instance, by focusing on an applicant’s individual background, which may include their experiences as they relate to racial discrimination.
“The Supreme Court’s opinion recognized what we know to be true: That race can be relevant to a person’s life or lived experience and may impact one’s development, motivations, academic interest, or personal or professional aspirations,” Vanita Gupta, a top-ranking official for the Justice Department, told reporters. “That impact can still be considered in university admissions.”
The departments also released a Q&A document alongside the letter to give leaders in both higher ed and K12 a better understanding of the ruling and how to navigate partnerships and the application process going forward.
With this in mind, high school students should continue to embrace talking about their race or ethnicity as they write their college application essays, because it may very well still be considered. However, the guidance is not legally binding, and what is and isn’t allowed in the admissions process is likely to be decided on by courts in the future. In the meantime, these documents serve to support higher ed and secondary institutions as they aim to keep the high school-college student pipeline as diverse as possible.
“Although this decision changes the landscape for admissions in higher education,” said Gupta, “it should not be used as an excuse to turn away from longstanding efforts to make those institutions more inclusive.”