Blog: Affirmative Action Decision – What Happens Now?

By Amanda Rea Corso, ASA Graduate Intern

The recent Supreme Court ruling to overturn a long-standing precedent that allowed colleges and universities to “take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission” will have sweeping effects on higher education. Working in higher education for nearly 5 years with a focus on DEIJ, I was overwhelmed by the flood of reactions to the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action. Instagram story after Instagram story, LinkedIn post after LinkedIn Post… each platform was filled with disappointed responses from my friends and colleagues. Many of these responses echoed the words of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s impassioned dissent, “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

It is believed that this ruling will result in the direct enrollment decline of students of Color. Because of this, institutions must think of new ways of reaching this population.1 Since this ruling, experts have weighed in on the detrimental effects of this decision and potential institutional solutions. Below is an overview of some of these initial responses and concerns.

Many have expressed concern that this ruling is a setback to an already difficult mission of increasing diversity and social justice on college campuses. Dr. Shaun Harper, a DEI expert and provost professor at the University of Southern California, warns this ruling will result in issues such as the decline of Black student enrollment at predominately white institutions, the “interpretive overreach” that could lead to a decrease in race-focused campus initiatives, further marginalization of students of Color, or the decrease in administration and faculty of Color, to name a few.[1]

Panelists from a session hosted by the American Center of Education commented that the SCOTUS ruling would have “significant changes to admission” as well as areas “outside admissions.” [2] This could take shape in the form of legal challenges to DEI program.[3] Interestingly, Dr. Harper specifically warns that the “ruling will be misused as an excuse to abandon race-conscious activities,” as others also expressed concern over these programs and initiatives (including scholarships) being affected.1,[4]

In short, while all seem to agree that the ruling is significant, there is confusion surrounding the details of this decision. In response to the confusion, President Biden, who condemned the ruling, and his administration have stated they will be providing guidance within 45 days for new lawful admission practices.4,[5] As institutions wait on these resources, leaders are encouraged to work with their legal services and local lawyers, as it is imperative for institutional leaders to be proactive in their response to this ruling.3

While the SCOTUS ruling is largely considered a setback to racial justice, folks are also looking at this as an opportunity to change many admission practices. One proposed item for review is legacy admission.4,[6] Related policies under consideration include standardized testing/scores and the way institutions recruit students.5, [7] Jonathan Alger, president of James Madison University, holds onto the hope of knowing that “diversity and excellence go hand in hand in higher education and are not opposing concepts…I believe that colleges and universities will continue to pursue these goals in a manner consistent with the Court’s latest guidance.”

Although the rolling boil of responses on my social network has slowed to a simmer, the conversation is far from over. As leaders grapple with the new reality and wait for further recommendations from the Biden administration, institutions are encouraged to think creatively and use this as a chance to rethink how admissions and offices outside of admissions can remove barriers to college access for students of Color. As individuals and groups go forward into this uncharted territory, Madelyn Wessel, a higher education lawyer and senior counsel at Hogan Lovells, reminds us to “be thoughtful and mindful but be creative”2  Although the ruling is disappointing, the rapid response and immediate call to action from fellow colleagues and friends in the field renew hope for new, collaborative and imaginative ways of ensuring diversity.


[2] ACE: The Supreme Court’s Ruling on Race and Admissions