The recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action has sparked significant debate and contemplation in college admissions for the 2023-24 academic year. This article dives into the impact of the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) ruling on higher education, focusing on the history of affirmative action and its evolution over time, including the critical milestones that have shaped its implementation in the United States. Moreover, this piece provides a comprehensive overview of the recent Supreme Court case that unfolded in June 2023, highlighting the key emerging arguments and implications. Finally, it examines how this decision has influenced and altered the current practices and policies surrounding college admissions, shedding light on the potential shifts that educational institutions are undergoing directly from the opinions of IMSA college admissions counselors (CACs).
Affirmative action was first signed in an executive order by President John. F. Kennedy, on March 6, 1961, designed to counter racial discrimination, primarily by providing opportunities for Black students. The program aimed to promote equal access to education to eliminate systemic barriers that hindered the advancement of marginalized communities since the foundation of America. Four years later, Executive Order 11246, signed on September 24, 1965, demonstrated a major turning point in affirmative action’s history. President Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the scope of affirmative action with an executive order that applied to anything supported by federal funding, including businesses, job sectors, and education. This extension encouraged groups of larger institutions to actively engage in practices that fostered diversity and equal opportunity. Affirmative action underwent another major pivotal shift in 2003 with the landmark SCOTUS case challenging the University of Michigan Law School. Known as Grutter v. Bollinger, the case emphasized the importance of only considering race as one supplemental factor to the admissions process. This critical development warned colleges to approach the consideration of race in a balanced manner, or else, in pursuit of diversity, institutions could cross the line into discriminatory practices, resulting in legal action. The case’s outcome introduced a significant element of caution within higher education, urging institutions to tread carefully while promoting equity in student bodies.
Following the 2003 legal challenge against the University of Michigan Law School, the landscape of college admissions faced a massive change in a pivotal lawsuit. In June 2023, an affirmative action case centered around the admission processes of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) amplified the ongoing debate over race-conscious admissions. It ultimately led to a groundbreaking Supreme Court decision. The lawsuits against these universities alleged that their admission processes unfairly disadvantaged Asian American applicants. With this controversial background, the Supreme Court issued a significant affirmative action decision on June 29, 2023, to no longer consider race as a factor in college admissions, casting attention to the boundaries and implications of considering race in college admissions. This decision revisited discussions about how race factors into college admissions and its broader implications for the educational landscape.
Consequently, it became increasingly apparent that this decision primarily impacted private educational institutions as, unlike their public counterparts, private schools faced heightened scrutiny and adjustments. This shift marked a notable shift from previous norms, prompting private institutions to reevaluate their approaches to diversity and inclusion in the context of the changing legal practices. As a direct result of this case, Harvard has restructured its admissions process from three essays to five holistic short answer questions. However, the Common App remains unaffected.
Shifting the focus to the perspective of the IMSA CACs, the 2023-24 college application process is a new experience in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Mrs. Molenhouse stated that even after the SCOTUS decision to disregard race, “it could still be on the application, and Common App still has it, but colleges may not see it, and if they do, they could try to suppress it.” Along with this statement, Mrs. Molenhouse notes that “the interesting thing that has changed the most is the types of essays…it is explicitly still legal to talk about any topic in their essays.” The counselors believe that the influence of affirmative action has resulted in no limitations on what to write in essays, and the counselors aim to demonstrate that despite the SCOTUS decision, the use of race in college applications is not up to the applicant. Mr. Donelson takes a positive approach and explains that “most schools don’t consider race, there’s a misconception that race is the only reason why one was rejected, [when] it’s only one consideration,” encouraging students to not worry about how their race will impact their college application, and instead evaluate it as just a single part of the application. The CACs agree, however, that students should focus far more on the essay element of the process, and they firmly believe that at the highly competitive level, chances are that several applications may feature stellar GPAs, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities, leaving institutions to evaluate the essays of their applicants. The CACs fully encourage telling the student’s unique story in this updated college admissions. They want to clarify the misconception of race as a major factor in the application process, and they wish the best of luck to all of the class of 2023-24 in their journeys.