Higher education institutions in Ohio and across the country won’t be able to consider race in admissions decisions moving forward due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued Thursday. The justices found such policies unconstitutional in a 6-3 split. 

“The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s majority opinion. 

When people talk about race and college admissions, they may think of a policy known as affirmative action. But race-conscious admissions is distinct. It aims to increase diversity on campuses.

The court’s ruling specifically looked at policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, but the decision has broad implications on how colleges can and cannot consider race in the future.  

“The Court today makes clear that, in the future, universities wishing to discriminate based on race in admissions must articulate and justify a compelling and measurable state interest based on concrete evidence,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion. “Given the strictures set out by the Court, I highly doubt any will be able to do so.”

As Signal Cleveland reported earlier this month, Case Western Reserve University is the only one of the city’s major higher education institutions currently considering race. About 15% of the more than 12,200 total students enrolled there last fall were from an underrepresented minority group. 

Case Western Reserve President Eric Kaler told the university community that they will, “of course,” comply with the law. The university will remain “steadfast” in its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Kaler added in a letter released Thursday

“We know that positive student outcomes and excellence in education at all levels depend on learning environments that prioritize these core values,” Kaler wrote. “Our holistic approach to admissions has led to a vibrant blend of students representing many racial, cultural, sexual, religious and gender identities.” 

That echoes thoughts College Now Greater Cleveland CEO Lee Friedman shared with Signal Cleveland. She cautioned that the decision is only hours old. The full impact remains to be seen. But the conversation has already been on what she called a “low boil” for years.  

“In our little world of college access, what we’re hearing from universities already is that they will find different ways to get to the same end,” Friedman said. “They may use criteria around low income. They may do it around geography. There’s other ways universities can ensure that their classes are fully representative of the fullness of our population.” 

It’s important to note, though, that the majority of Americans aren’t educated at the highly selective institutions centered in this decision. The city’s other big colleges – Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College  – don’t consider race when admitting students. 

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.