Saturday, June 29, 2013

What Does Fisher Decision Mean for College Admissions?

It was a big week for SCOTUS decisions, and an even bigger one for the impact one of those decisions will have on college admissions, if not now then someday soon. While the court did not overturn the U Michigan Law School case, which allows for race to be considered in the admissions process, and SCOTUS "punted" the case back down to the lower courts, there is something worthy of note in the decision.

The Supreme Court wrote in its decision that colleges and universities need to review their affirmative action policies more carefully, and apply greater scrutiny to the application of such policies. Lower courts should no longer just "rubber stamp" a school's desire to consider race in the application process. This means that a school has to show that there is no other effective and meaningful tool for them to bring diversity to a campus other than considering race in the application process. The lower court did not do this, so SCOTUS sent the case back to see whether UT could figure out how to create a diverse campus another way. Officials from UT stated after the decision was announced that they had no intention of changing their policies for admissions any time soon.

I honestly don’t know how else a campus community can be representative of the diverse country we reside in without considering race. How else would a college be able to identify students of color if not through self-identification? Economic diversity is easier to achieve; just give academically qualified students enough institutional gift aid, not loans, to enable them to attend. Will underrepresented minority students have to come up with another way to identify their status as such? Will the new Common App question asking if students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it be the place to self-identify?

Time will tell, as will future cases heard by lower courts, whether there is another way to assure diversity on campus.  I am not confident there is. For the moment, though, as campuses nationwide better reflect the colors of our citizens than they ever have before, I cannot think of a better way to improve the settings in which we teach the next generation of leaders. Can you?

Monday, June 17, 2013

SCOTUS, UT and College Admissions

College admissions officers, administrators, counselors and students are waiting with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s decision on a case heard earlier this year. Fischer v. University of Texas is a suit brought against the University by a student who was denied admission. Admission to UT is guaranteed to Texas residents who graduate from a Texas high school in the top 10% of the class; beyond that group, admissions is holistic, considering all the stuff we already know all colleges consider in the admissions process. The plaintiff alleges that her Caucasian race put her at a disadvantage for admission, as the University seeks greater diversity on campus. The case asks that the court declare the admissions policy of the University inconsistent with another related case, Grutter v. Bollinger, or overrule it in its entirety. Grutter v. Bollinger is a 2003 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that race could play a limited role in the admissions policies of public universities. An overruling of Grutter could end conscious affirmative action policies in admissions at U.S. public universities.

In a lower court decision, it was ruled that Fischer’s race could be taken into account when her candidacy was reviewed.  In the Grutter decision, it was stated that sorting applicants by race, forbidden in any other public entity, was permissible in public university admissions. While many private colleges and universities have expressed a preference for a diverse campus, and make admissions decisions based on those preferences, they are private institutions and can, to some extent, do as they please. Publics need to acknowledge their admissions standards and defend their legality when challenged.

So, a student who self-identifies on an application that he or she is an under- represented minority may be given preference over a student who chose not to check the box indicating ethnicity, or indicated that he or she is Caucasian. What does this mean for the typical American high school student who is applying to a public university? Does it mean that Common App forms for public universities won't have a space anymore to indicate ethnicity or minority status? Maybe. Does it mean that public universities that are committed to a diverse student body will find other ways for students to self-identify? Maybe. Or does it mean that the playing field is completely level now and every student, regardless of color, race, or birthplace will be considered solely on his or her academic merits when applying to a public university, diversity be damned? Is this a good thing?  A bad thing? Who knows?