Biden Administration Issues Racial Diversity Guidance For College Admissions Post SCOTUS Affirmative Action Ban
Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Biden administration released new guidance on Monday for higher education institutions to legally consider a student’s race during admission in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ban on affirmative action.

“This is a moment of great urgency in higher education,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told reporters Monday morning.

Just before the nation’s highest court broke for recesses at the end of June, SCOTUS issued a landmark ruling that said race-based admissions programs at Harvard University violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the University of North Carolina programs violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Students for Fair Admissions sued the elite schools, accusing them of unfairly factoring race into their admissions processes, pointing to the high test scores of rejected Asian-American and white applicants. The group argued that Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by schools that receive federal funding. In the other case, the group accused the UNC of violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by considering race in its admissions process.

“We know what has happened at colleges when individual states have banned affirmative action in the past,” Cardona reportedly said during a press call on Monday. “Fewer students of color applied, and fewer students of color were admitted. We cannot afford that kind of backpedaling on a national scale.”

The decision now profoundly affects the admissions processes at universities across the country. But despite the nation’s highest court eliminating universities’ ability to accept applicants based on race, some have indicated that they would search for a loophole in the ruling.

“Although this decision changes the landscape for admissions in higher education, it should not be used as an excuse to turn away from long-standing efforts to make those institutions more inclusive,” associate attorney general Vanita Gupta reportedly said at a news conference. “Race can be relevant to a person’s life or a lived experience, and may impact one’s development motivations, academic interests or personal or professional aspirations. That impact can still be considered.”

The Department of Education and the Department of Justice published guidance outlining available legal resources for colleges and universities to take other steps to achieve a diverse student body based on a range of factors, including race and ethnicity.

According to the question and answer portion of the document, federal officials said the Supreme Court’s decision “does not require institutions to ignore race when identifying prospective students for outreach and recruitment, provided that their outreach and recruitment programs do not provide targeted groups of prospective students preference in the admissions process.”

Some examples federal officials detailed include offering affinity clubs with race-related themes, considering how an applicant’s race has shaped personal experiences, and re-evaluating admissions preferences for students with legacy status or donor affiliation.

“With respect to admissions practices themselves, especially for the upcoming cycle, the Departments encourage colleges and universities to review their policies to ensure they identify and reward those attributes that they most value, such as hard work, achievement, intellectual curiosity, potential and determination,” the administration wrote in the “Dear Colleague” letter.

Attorney General Merrick Garland told the Associated Press in a statement, “Ensuring access to higher education for students from different backgrounds is one of the most powerful tools we have to prepare graduates to lead an increasingly diverse nation and make real our country’s promise of opportunity for all.”

Students for Fair Admissions has not responded to requests for comment.

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