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News Analysis May 24, 2022 9:13 PM EST

DESPERATE TO DISCRIMINATE: Elite schools search for new ways to 'diversify' as SCOTUS decision on affirmative action looms

While affirmative action could potentially face the chopping block, universities have stressed their commitment to diversity in their admissions.

DESPERATE TO DISCRIMINATE: Elite schools search for new ways to 'diversify' as SCOTUS decision on affirmative action looms
Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

With a potential ruling in the Supreme Court regarding affirmative action looming, the possibility of it being overturned has elite college campuses struggling to figure out how to stick to their "diversity" efforts without being able to factor in race.

According to The Boston Globe, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases regarding the consideration of race in admissions to highly selective colleges. One case involves Harvard, while the other pertains to the University of North Carolina. A ruling is expected in 2024.

The Globe pointed to the recent Supreme Court leak indicating that a majority of justices would vote to overturn Roe v Wade in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, stating that "The court’s rightward shift, and the conservative majority’s recently leaked draft opinion in an abortion case, which signaled its willingness to overturn established precedent, suggests to many observers that the end of affirmative action may be imminent."

While affirmative action could potentially face the chopping block, universities have stressed their commitment to diversity in their admissions.

"Regardless of the court’s decision, we will continue to advance our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals," said Anthony Monaco, president of Tufts University. "Diversity is vital to creating a climate that encourages learning both in and outside of the classroom, fosters respectful conversations across differences, and provides all our students with transformational experiences."

Admissions experts told the Globe that while there is no substitution for race, other factors can be weighed like geographical regions.

"It’s not that this is going to be in lieu of race, but I think colleges will still have an opportunity to diversify their funnels," said Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "A lot of it starts with, how do you get students to even apply and come to the door?"

The National Association for College Admission Counseling is working with other organizations on an amicus brief in the case, arguing in favor of using race in admissions.

Perez stated that using these sorts of strategies have helped public institutions in California, which have been barred from considering race in admissions since 1996.

Both cases were brought forth by Students for Fair Admissions, with the cases alleging that affirmative action policies have discriminated against Asian American and white applicants, with universities favoring black, hispanic, and Native American applicants instead.

Edward Blum, founder of Students for Fair Admissions, stated that his representatives have argued in court that universities have failed to consider other alternatives to race, including socioeconomic status, eliminating legacy admissions, increasing financial aid, and geographic diversity, amongst other topics in their admissions.

Experts told the Globe that elite universities like Harvard have more of a stake in the ruling because they are very selective in who they admit, unlike public universities.

Beth Donaldson, an admissions consultant at the enrollment management firm EAB, told the Globe that another strategy for recruiting diverse students could be hosting summer academies and dual enrollment programs, as well as relaxing testing requirements.

The removal of testing requirements came about during the pandemic, when it was difficult to access tests like the SAT and ACT. Harvard has permanently dropped the requirement, while MIT reinstated it, saying that the testing would help them predict what students would succeed at the school.

Donaldson noted that an EAB survey found that black and Hispanic/Latino students were more likely than white or Asian students to say that a school’s testing policy drove their decision to apply.

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