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Reviews |  If the Supreme Court Bans Affirmative Action, We Know What Will Happen

As a longtime college administrator, I know the practical implications would be enormous for many of the more than 3,000 higher education institutions in this country, especially those among the most elite. I have seen firsthand what is happening in states where affirmative action has already been banned. Ultimately, a post-affirmative action world will shut the door on many black and Latino students at some of the nation’s top universities. And efforts to adapt to these new restrictions will not be easy.

Affirmative action bans have already been implemented in nine states, although all apply only to public colleges and universities: California (1996), Washington (1998), Florida (1999), Michigan (2006) , Nebraska (2008), Arizona (2010), New Hampshire (2012), Oklahoma (2012), and Idaho (2020). In these states, admissions offices at public institutions are not permitted to consider an applicant’s race or ethnicity when considering admission to the institution. This is true whether the institution wishes to remedy the effects of past discrimination against certain groups or whether it believes that a more diverse student body benefits the education of all students. These same prohibitions also apply to other programs that seek to promote equity in education by targeting particular racial or ethnic groups.

With the implementation of these bans, most institutions – especially the most selective public universities, such as flagship state institutions – have seen a decline in the proportion of incoming undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups in the higher education, including black and Latino students. .

California was the first state to implement a ban on affirmative action in college and university admissions with the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996. In the six years prior to the ban, the proportion of black students in the entering class at the University of California-Berkeley, the state’s flagship institution, averages 6.4 percent. In the six years since Proposition 209 was passed, the proportion fell to 3.6%. Similar declines were seen in Hispanic student enrollment, dropping from an annual average of 16.3% before the affirmative action ban to 9.4% after it was banned.

Private colleges and universities, even in states that ban affirmative action, have been able to continue to use race-based criteria in their admissions policies.

At the University of San Francisco, a private institution where I used to be in charge of admissions and financial aid, we have implemented the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) initiative, which offers special recruitment, a academic support and extracurricular activities, as well as a living learning community targeted at black students. This program has helped us increase enrollment of Black students and improve their graduation rate, which was lower than their peers from other racial and ethnic groups. Such a program would likely not have been allowed at a public university in any of the nine states where affirmative action is prohibited. And it would almost certainly not be permitted if the Supreme Court rejected the Bakke decision.

Meanwhile, at Michigan State University, a public institution where I was dean of the College of Education, the misnamed Michigan Civil Rights Initiative prevented us from implementing similar programs. Our goal of training the next generation of teachers to help diversify the teaching body in this state — which has remained disproportionately white and does not reflect the growing diversity of the K-12 student body — has been severely hampered by our inability to develop programs targeted to the unique needs of black and Hispanic teacher candidates.

There is no comprehensive list of colleges and universities nationwide that use affirmative action in their admissions programs. However, the practice is most commonly seen among the more selective public and private 4-year universities (in states where it is still permitted). These are the institutions that will be most affected by a decision against Harvard in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Scholars of Harvard College.

While the effect of a ruling prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions is likely to differ from institution to institution, it is inevitable that the enrollment of black students and Hispanics – who have been the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action – will decline at such times. establishments.

Universities will likely try to find racially neutral ways to maintain their enrollments of historically underrepresented students. But there is not much to do.

After the passage of Proposition 209, for example, the University of California system developed a series of programs to encourage the enrollment of black and Latino students while respecting the precepts of the law. Seven years later, a report released by the Office of the President of the University of California that reviewed those programs found that while the university had successfully overcome Proposition 209 restrictions, the proportion of black and Hispanic students on the university’s eight undergraduate campuses was still below 1997 levels. And this decline was most pronounced on the two most selective campuses in Berkeley and Los Angeles.

It is important to note that a Supreme Court ban on the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions will have little or no effect in the majority of colleges and universities.

More than 30% of all undergraduates attend community colleges, which are almost exclusively open admission, meaning anyone who meets the minimum requirements — typically a high school diploma or GED certificate — can s ‘to register. Additionally, according to a report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, more than 80% of institutions accept at least half of undergraduate applicants who apply, meaning they are relatively unselective in admissions and they are unlikely to use affirmative action in major studies. ways to shape their classrooms.

But while the impact of a nationwide ban on affirmative action would affect a relatively small number of colleges and universities, it’s also important to note that these are typically the most selective, elite institutions. and the nation’s best-known—often producing the next generation of leaders in business, government agencies, and nonprofits. Their failure to consider race and ethnicity in their admissions processes would likely have rapid and lasting effects on equity, diversity, and opportunity in our country.

While there’s still a chance the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Harvard and UNC, higher education needs to be ready for what the world will look like in a post-affirmative action world and begin to prepare potential remedies.


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