Blog Post by: Richard D. Kahlenberg , on April 22, 2014
The Supreme Court has given voters the green light to eliminate the use of racial preferences in college admissions, which is discouraging for racial diversity.
The court ruled 6-2 today in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action that voters can amend a state constitution to ban race-based affirmative action by referendum, as Michigan voters did in 2006, 58 percent to 42 percent.
Colleges should heed the Supreme Court’s ruling and begin adopting new strategies to guarantee racial and socio-economic diversity on campus.
The ruling presents a new challenge for colleges committed to enrolling diverse student populations and reinforces the court’s decision in Fisher v University of Texas that universities have "the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable, race-neutral alternatives do not suffice."
Together, these rulings are a call to action for college leaders and administrators to more aggressively pursue race-neutral policies that give all disadvantaged students equal opportunities.
The good news is there are alternative ways to achieve diversity that can also deal with economic inequalities. There are proven race-neutral policies that universities can, and have already adopted, to deliver more opportunities for minority students to enroll in and succeed at college.
Giving a leg up in admissions to economically-disadvantaged students of all races, eliminating legacy preferences, increasing financial aid, assisting students to transfer from community colleges to four-year degrees and admitting students at the top of every high school in the state, are just some of the ways colleges have delivered racial and socio-economic diversity without race-based affirmative action.
A recent study I conducted with my colleague Halley Potter found that seven out of 10 leading public universities were able to maintain or even increase the proportion of African-American and Latino students among their ranks by replacing race-based preferences with strategies that target socio-economic inequality.
In the wake of today’s decision it is imperative that college communities get educated about the alternatives to class-based affirmative action in order to maintain diversity in the U.S. higher education system.