After SCOTUS Rocks Diversity Efforts, the Fight for Equity in Higher Education is Only Beginning

It’s official. 

With its ruling last week that effectively ended the role of affirmative action in college admissions, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a devastating blow to diversity efforts in America’s highly selective universities.

So, what’s our next move as K-12 school leaders following this seismic shift in higher education? It is abundantly clear that our work for ensuring students of color are equipped with the tools they need to thrive in college and life is now more important than ever.

While some argue race should not be a factor in college-acceptance decisions, Accelerate Institute maintains the societal progress that would allow for racially diverse college campuses that are in line with our country’s demographics simply hasn’t occurred yet.

And, following what was observed after previous state-level bans on affirmative action, we know that enrollment rates for students of color at highly selective universities across America are now likely to plummet even further as a result of the federal affirmative action ban.

Take, for example, the University of Michigan, where representation of Black undergraduate students fell from 7% in 2006 to just 4% in 2021 — even with the total percentage of college-aged Black people in the state climbing from 16% to 19% during the same time. Nearly a decade earlier in California, the number of Black students accepted to UC Berkeley and UCLA in 1998 — the first year without affirmative action — dropped by 66% and 43%, respectively. For Latino students, admissions fell by 53% and 33%, respectively.

The good news?

Even without affirmative action in place, there are still ways to ensure students of color have equitable access to promising college and career opportunities. Frankly, improving schools was always going to be the solution for creating positive educational outcomes for students — the end of affirmative action merely highlights this fact.

In order to do so, educators have to throw out yesterday’s playbook and instead focus on:

    • delivering a rigorous academic curriculum that will prepare Black and brown students to excel in college;
    • placing a greater emphasis on social and emotional development, which will empower students to thrive throughout their college experiences; after all, the goal is to get students “through,” not simply “to,” college;
    • giving students exposure to colleges and universities — including historically Black colleges and universities — earlier and more often through initiatives like college-themed classrooms, college spirit days, college fairs, and university tours;
    • and working to secure financial support for post-secondary education for students of color.

In doing so, school leaders can help develop students who are advancing on a positive trajectory to be globally competitive in both college and career. By continuing to provide and advocate for equity in education in every form possible, we can ensure these high-performing students from under-resourced communities are on a level playing field so they have the opportunity to reach their true potential in life.