What the Affirmative Action Ruling Means for Colleges and Universities

The Supreme Court’s decision to end race-conscious admissions will very likely change higher education in complicated ways. Some of them will be obvious, including immediate changes in the demographics of the campus.

Others, though, could also change society, affecting the doctors who treat you, the judges who hear your cases, and the college choices of Black students.

Here are a few things that could happen, now and in the future.

What will happen to the student body at the 100 or so selective colleges and universities that practice race-conscious admissions?

Nine states have already banned this form of affirmative action at their public universities, providing a guide to what could happen.

When Michigan banned race-conscious admissions in 2006, Black undergraduate enrollment at the state’s flagship campus in Ann Arbor declined to 4 percent in 2021, from 7 percent in 2006.

A similar drop took place at the University of California’s most selective schools after Proposition 209 in 1996 banned race-conscious admissions. That year, Black students at the University of California, Los Angeles, made up 7 percent of the student body. By 1998, the percentage of Black students had fallen to 3.43 percent.

At least in the immediate future, the Supreme Court’s ruling is expected to lower the number of Black and Latino students at medical schools, law schools and other professional degree programs.

In an amicus brief, groups including the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association said that “states that have banned race-conscious admissions have seen the number of minority medical-school students drop by roughly 37 percent,” reducing the pipeline of doctors from those groups. Nationally, about 5.7 percent of doctors are Black, and 6.8 percent identify as Hispanic.

Applicants who are admitted to medical schools are mostly from the upper socioeconomic echelons.

The American Bar Association has also expressed concern, saying that affirmative action ensures a more racially diverse profession and judiciary, which the organization says is essential to the legitimacy of the legal system.

After George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, Black students seeking a nurturing environment and a sense of belonging flocked to historically Black colleges and universities.

The effect of the Supreme Court ruling could be similar, said David A. Thomas, the president of Morehouse College, a selective HBCU in Atlanta.

“College-ready Black students and their families will say, ‘We don’t want to go to places where we’re not wanted,’” he said in an interview. “And they will look for alternatives.”

With the fall admissions season just weeks away, university officials are scrambling to revise their plans, but they are also aware that they could be sued.

Conservative legal activists have promised to challenge admissions practices that are simply proxies for race-based admissions.

In fact, that effort has already started. Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal activist group that is taking on public high school admissions, helped parents file a lawsuit against Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school in Alexandria, Va. They claimed that the school used proxies for race, including ZIP codes, to boost the admissions of Black and Latino students at the expense of Asian American students.

“That’s going to be the next frontier,” said Joshua P. Thompson, a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation.

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