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What to expect from ruling on race-conscious admissions

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This item appeared in Beyond High School, a Chalkbeat newsletter by Jason Gonzales about college-going in Colorado. Sign up for your own copy here.

Hello and welcome to November’s Beyond High School.

This month, I wanted to touch on affirmative action in college admissions — because cases involving Harvard University and University of North Carolina are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s not a topic I’ve covered because the practice plays out more among highly selective colleges.

My coverage has focused more on open access institutions, but this decision would have a wide-ranging impact on schools across the nation. Colorado doesn’t ban race-based admissions. Schools such as the University of Colorado Boulder consider it after first considering race-neutral factors.

I decided to speak with Natasha Warikoo, who has followed this issue closely and wrote a book on issues like affirmative action in admissions, to shed light on what might happen because of this case.

Where’s this case at right now and what’s the likely outcome?

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in this case at the end of October, with conservative justices expressing reservations about using race in admissions. A decision is likely in May or June, Warikoo said.

Colleges may have to end or limit affirmative actions in admissions. Whatever the decision, Warikoo said she believes “it will be some kind of narrowing of affirmative action.”

How would any change impact students?

A ruling outlawing affirmative action in admissions will likely produce less racially diverse college campuses. In states where the legislature or governor has limited the use of race in admissions, the percentage of Black, Latino, and Native American students on campus has declined, Warikoo said.

That would have big impacts on communities, she said.

Data shows the most selective and well resourced colleges are more likely to graduate students of any color, she said. Campuses with fewer resources, such as regional colleges and community colleges, have lower graduation rates. When students of color have less access to wealthy institutions, their chances of graduation decrease and so do their expected lifetime earnings.

“I think we’ll see that,” she said.

What would colleges do to boost the numbers of students of color if the Supreme Court says this practice is unlawful?

“There’s no better way to account for race than to account for race,” Warikoo said.

So a path forward looks unclear if justices deem affirmative action unlawful.

There are still some ways to diversify campuses. She asked whether schools should continue legacy admissions, which clearly favor wealthier and white students. (As a note: Colorado has banned legacy admissions.)

“Do we want to keep all sports including things like sailing and crew that are historically predominantly white?” she said. “And thinking much more broadly about class and increasing cross-class diversity will increase diversity a little bit.”

Thank you for reading. And stay in touch.

Reach me on Twitter at @ByJasonGonzales or via email at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

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