Statement on Supreme Court Decision on Race-Conscious Admissions in Higher Education

Jun 30, 2023

Yesterday the Supreme Court ignored 45 years’ worth of precedent when it struck down the use of higher education admissions policies that include attention to race. In doing so, a majority of the Court wholly disregarded a wealth of education research establishing the educational benefits of diversity, including improved cognitive skills and critical thinking; the promotion of civic engagement and the skills needed for professional development and leadership in an increasingly diverse workforce and society; improved classroom environments; the breaking down of racial stereotypes; and the development of cross-racial understanding critical to students’ success in higher education institutions and beyond. Moreover, in its haste to end the constitutional protections provided by Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and expounded upon by Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Court ignored the inequities in the current K-12 educational context leading to college and university admissions, including increased K-12 school segregation, increased economic inequality, entrenchment of disparities associated with a lack of parental educational attainment, and most recently, the highly unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, the scientific evidence shows us that race-conscious admissions policies are the only effective mechanism to producing meaningful student body diversity. When race-conscious policies have been abandoned, racial gaps in admissions increase and other alternatives, such as income-based policies, have failed to produce meaningful diversity.

Despite our disappointment with this ruling, the National Academy of Education remains committed to the critical goal of diversity in education and ensuring that students, particularly those from historically marginalized communities, have opportunities to cultivate their full academic potential. As Justice Sotomayor stated in her dissenting opinion

Notwithstanding this Court’s actions . . . society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted. Diversity is now a fundamental American value, housed in our varied and multicultural American community that only continues to grow. The pursuit of racial diversity will go on. Although the Court has stripped out almost all uses of race in college admissions, universities can and should continue to use all available tools to meet society’s needs for diversity in education. Despite the Court’s unjustified exercise of power, the opinion today will serve only to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of an America whose cries for equality resound.  As has been the case before in the history of American democracy, “the arc of the moral universe” will bend toward racial justice despite the Court’s efforts today to impede its progress.  Martin Luther King “Our God is Marching On!” Speech (Mar. 25, 1965).

As a field, we must now turn our attention to improving and developing alternative means “to meet society’s needs for diversity in education.”

In 2022, the National Academy of Education (NAEd) submitted a Supreme Court amicus brief in support of Harvard College and the University of North Carolina. The NAEd provided to the Court critical research demonstrating the continued educational benefits of a diverse student body, the continued and in many instances growing disparities that make higher education race-conscious admissions necessary, and the failure of race-neutral alternatives to achieve a critical mass for the purposes of racial diversity. The NAEd has a long history of examining social science research related to race-conscious education policies (see, e.g., Prejudice and Pride, The Brown Decision After 25 Years [1979]and Race-Conscious Policies for Assigning Students to Schools: Social Science Research and the Supreme Court Cases [2007]).

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