Supreme Court Ruling Overview

Supreme Court Ruling Overview

In June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to significantly limit the use of race in admissions. The consideration of race as a status or category is no longer permitted. The decision greatly impacts how all colleges and universities use race in their admissions practices. Learn more about the implications of the ruling by reading the Preliminary Guidance Regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC.

The Court’s Rationale

The Court asserted three bases for its determination that the Harvard and UNC admission policies violated federal nondiscrimination law. The Court ruled that:

  • Neither institution sufficiently justified why racial status should be considered in admissions.
  • The institutions’ used racial status as a negative which led to “fewer Asian American and white students being admitted” to Harvard.
  • Neither institution established a sufficient end to the consideration of racial status.

What the Court Said Is and Isn’t Permissible 

  • Institutions have the authority to establish their mission including articulating and pursuing institutional diversity goals.
  • Institutions may not consider or weight race as status in admission decision-making.
  • Institutions are not prohibited from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected their life and shaped their individual qualities, characteristics, perspectives, and attributes.  
    • For example, if a student was the leader of an African American group at their high school, that fact may be considered by an admissions officer, but for the leadership qualities it reflected, not for the fact that the student or the group was African American.

Issues Not Addressed by the Court

In its opinion, the Court did not address the following areas, but they should be assessed by institutions:

  • Scholarships and Financial Aid
    • The decision did not specifically address aid & scholarship issues, but the Court effectively eliminated compelling interests that have served to support race-status-conscious policies.       
    •  Possible avenues for maintaining underrepresented groups of students on campus include focusing on experiences and interests rather than race and consideration of race-neutral factors such as income, first-generation status, or geography. A ‘pooling and matching’ allocation strategy to accommodate race-conscious scholarships has been proposed, but it has not been tested in the courts and would undoubtedly draw scrutiny.
  • Recruitment and Outreach
    • Colleges can continue to recruit from all populations, including with a focus on underserved populations.
    • Targeted outreach based on race within a broad-based, inclusive recruitment and pathways-building strategy is permissible.
    • If you collect race data for recruitment purposes, it's important to ensure that personnel involved in admissions decisions do not have access to that data, at least while they are in the admissions process.

Key Actions for Institutions and Systems to Consider and Take

  1. Remain focused and clear on advancing diversity and equity goals, though keep in mind any actions you take may be scrutinized.
  2. Advance all viable, authentic “race-neutral” policies and practices to achieve appropriate institutional goals.
  3. Lean into strategic documentation, with a focus on policy, training materials, data protocols, and file review rubrics.
  4. Examine financial aid and scholarship policies and practices with care in light of the decision.