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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

Has the Supreme Court changed college admissions forever

Written by:  Gabriel León 🇻🇪

The Supreme Court of the United States located in Washington, D. C. on August 2023 (Gabriel León)

If you are reading this right now, chances are you are in college, went to college in the past or at least know somebody who went to college. The United States is home to some of the best colleges in the world, however up until the 1960s, these colleges’ student bodies were mostly white Americans. If there were African American or Latino students, they were in the minority. This would change in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act being passed by President Johnson.

 Title VI would change the admissions of government-funded colleges for decades to come. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This would see colleges and universities around the country consider race in the admissions process, hoping to project the best image possible to the public which oftentimes meant admitting a decent amount of AfricanAmerican, Latino and NativeAmerican students who make up the “underrepresented minorities” of the U.S. in higher education and jobs that require education beyond a bachelor's degree. 

I am a proud Latino at the University of Maryland with ambitions to go to law school after my undergraduate studies. There are definitely more people that look like me, speak the same languages, and have the same goals as me than 60 years ago. That being said, note that in Title VI, there is not a specific race mentioned, just that nobody can be discriminated against on a basis of race, color or national origin. Although colleges used race in the admissions process, it is difficult to know how much it was considered. Colleges using race in the admissions process became known as affirmative action. 

Affirmative action is the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups regarded as disadvantaged or subject to discrimination. Affirmative action has been used in Universities and postgraduate schools since 1978, “when the law allowed colleges to consider race or ethnicity as one factor in admissions to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” 

The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment states that government funded institutions can not discriminate against people of color or make race-based decisions. Basically saying the same thing as Title XI of the Civil Rights Act. This is important because schools were using affirmative action as a way to demonstrate that their universities were diverse, some universities even having quotas for the amount of minority students they hoped to admit. 

There was a Supreme Court case that will go down in history, deeming affirmative action unconstitutional. Deeming affirmative action unconstitutional meant that the Supreme Court decided that it went against the Constitution of the U.S.. This case is called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. The University of North Carolina and Harvard, argued on Oct. 31, 2022 and decided on June 29, 2023. 

The SFFA sued the University of Carolina and Harvard over its admissions process, on the basis that the process violates the 14th Amendment by using race as a factor in admissions. The question at hand was if institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in the admissions process. The answer was that they cannot, in a 6-3 vote in the favor of the SFFA, it was determined that the University of North Carolina had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

The SFFA was acting in good faith because their members are volunteers who stand for the values of the organization. Ever since Brown v. Board of Education, any exceptions to equal protection must satisfy “strict scrutiny” and it was determined that the University of North Carolina’s nor Harvard’s admissions process did not meet the scrutiny of that bar

Diversification of the student body is a “compelling state [govt.] interest” but race can only be used as a plus in admissions, not used to meet a quota or satisfy an agenda of any kind. Neither the University of North Carolina nor Harvard could reasonably make the claim that their admissions process did not violate the 14th amendment. 

The Supreme Court gave reasoning to their decision saying “nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant's life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.” 

This decision is of utmost importance because it calls for the revision of many admissions processes around the world. Affirmative action was passed with executive order 11246 in 1965 and upheld in 1978 as long as race was considered with other factors as well. How will this ruling impact underrepresented minorities? 

For full-time first-year undergraduate students, 25% of students go to two-year colleges, 43% to a minimally selective college, 3% to a for-profit college (schools that rely on investors to make money)  and 30% to a selective college. It is more likely for underrepresented minorities (Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans) to attend two-year or less selective colleges.

 For example, under 38% of Latino and African American and Native American students attend a two-year institution, each demographic is higher than the overall 25% number of all undergraduate students which includes Asian, mixed race and White students who are more likely to attend highly selective schools. 

Latinos, African American and Native American students will be largely unaffected by the ruling of the Supreme Court simply because they are more likely to attend either two-year or less-selective college. 

This is because less selective colleges and two-year colleges did not have to use affirmative action in their admissions process because they were already serving these underrepresented communities and if they were using affirmative action, it was not for diversification purposes. Highly selective colleges are more likely to have used affirmative action and consider races. 

Most of these highly selective universities are private as well when two-thirds of undergraduate students at a Four-year institution attend a public university. The private, highly selective universities are more selective because they often have a smaller student population than public universities. These are the same universities who were using race in their admissions process and affirmative action in a much more impactful way.

Latino, African American and Native students were already mostly attending schools that did not use affirmative action even before this ruling. Under 15% of Latino, African American and 8% of Native students were attending schools that did use affirmative action before this ruling. In comparison, 32% of Asian students, 26% of White students, and 23% of mixed race students were attending schools that did use affirmative action before this ruling. It is important to note that it is not known how affirmative action was being used, just that it was being used. 

So, what do all of those numbers mean? Well, it is hard to tell right now but a likely impact of the ruling is that less-selective universities could see even more applicants from underrepresented minorities.

 On the other hand, highly selective universities may see a dip in applicants from underrepresented minorities because they know race will no longer have such an important role as it once did. Many of these underrepresented students were already attending less-selective schools that will not be affected by this ruling. It is too early to tell the long-term implications of this decision,  hopefully we continue to see underrepresented minority students continue to apply to colleges and universities regardless of their selectiveness because higher education is becoming more and more essential in today's society.

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