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What to know about awareness of race in admission after SCOTUS

Updated: Oct 27

One of the central conversations in college admission in the US for the last year has been the pending Supreme Court decision on the SFFA vs. Harvard and UNC-Chapel cases, alleging that "affirmative action" practices are unfair and discriminatory.

On June 29, SCOTUS released its decision, effectively ending conscious consideration of race in college admission decisions.

At the NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) annual conference this September, the question of how to proceed in the wake of this decision was at the top of the agenda, and the subject of many sessions for both counselors and admission professionals.

What should applicants and their families know about this decision and how it impacts college admission practices going forward? Some of the best summaries are collected below.

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides a multi-faceted overview here. (It is well worth the time to set up a free Chronicle subscription. Eric Hoover's coverage of college admission for that publication is essential reading.)

In a follow-up piece, Eric reports on the reactions from college administrators, applicants, and student advocates.

The New York Times asks an essential question for applicants in this article.

The White House recently issued some guidance for institutions "to help colleges navigate what remains legally viable in admissions to ensure their campuses recruit and admit diverse classes."

Finally, here is a thoughtful piece written by a high school counselor about why it all matters.

My quick take? College admission has never employed a 1:1 equivalency in decision-making. Students from under-represented groups aren't, and have never been, swapped out for majority students who are more, less, or equally compelling or prepared. Unlike the systems in just about any other country, most American colleges and universities practice holistic admission, meaning they take into account a whole list of factors in assessing students' readiness for their academic communities, in light of the opportunities presented to them in high school.

That said, what mechanisms have been in place to reach under-represented students have been imperfect-- though still better than a total absence of an acknowledgement of the inequalities that impact educational opportunity.

Justice Robert's allowance for “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise," and the assertion that a “benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university," essentially depicts how college admission decisions already were made.

In my view, this conversation has always been framed in an incorrect and uninformed way in the media, and even in these Supreme Court arguments. I share the concerns of most of the admission professionals I know, that talented students from under-represented groups may now be discouraged from engaging in the college admission process, or somehow missed in the recruitment process. We are all keeping our eyes on the state of admission practice moving forward, and admission offices and CBO's are thinking creatively to continue to provide access to higher education.

In the meantime, it's fascinating to observe how practices like preferential treatment for legacies, donors, and other special cases are being scrutinized in the wake of this decision. Stay tuned!

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