Affirmative action ruling: 4 things students should know (2023)

The Supreme Court ruling that selective colleges and universities can’t use race as a factor in admissions comes as the nation's students have become increasingly more diverse.

Over half are Latino, Black, Asian American or Native American, said Michele Siqueiros, the president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit group helping Californians go to college.

“We have more eligible students ready for college than we’ve ever had,” Siqueiros said.

At the same time, Black and Latino students are still underrepresented across selective and highly selective colleges and universities — institutions where fewer than half of applicants or fewer than 20% are accepted, respectively. They're also underrepresented in many states' flagship universities.

We asked experts to assess what the Supreme Court ruling means for students and families.

Does the ruling get rid of diversity in selective colleges' admissions?


While the ruling focuses specifically on barring race as a factor in admissions, it doesn't limit institutions' outreach, engagement, retention or completion strategies aimed at enrolling diverse student bodies, said Deborah Santiago, the CEO and a co-founder of Excelencia in Education, an organization that promotes Latino college completion. "You can do all of those things in these communities,” she said.

Higher education scholars and counselors say the onus is on colleges and universities to ensure that their applicant pools include students of color — many of whom come from segregated school districts with fewer resources.

(Video) Four things to know after #SCOTUS ruled against #affirmativeaction

“One of the things that could shift is, really, how admission officers recruit around the country, because if you can’t take race into account, the only thing you really can control is how diverse your applicant pool is,” said Angel B. Perez, the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Zamir Ben-Dan, an assistant law professor at Temple University, said higher education institutions will be able to continue to “promote diversity based on background, based on socioeconomic experiences,” among other experiences.

A wide array of experiences can still define what it means to have a diverse student body — including students' experiences, where they grew up and their areas of interest. When it comes to social and economic diversity, having to work while in school, being raised by a single parent, going to a private high school on a scholarship or even experiences with the family court system “are still very unique experiences that are going to shape how a student views the world,” Ben-Dan said.

Have previous bans on race-conscious admissions affected student diversity?

The short answer is yes.

State-level bans on using race-based affirmative action in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington have already given the country a glimpse of the consequences of prohibiting such a practice.

Research shows that in those nine states, the enrollment of students from underrepresented communities declined, even if other factors, such as class, were weighed more heavily.

In California, data showed that affirmative action helped Black and Latino university students.

Siqueiros saw a big decline in the number of Black and Latino students who applied to selective universities and colleges after the state banned affirmative action in the 1990s.

(Video) Harvard student reacts to affirmative action ruling: 'This has immediate impacts'

“There was a very real reaction from high school students who just chose not to even apply. There was also a dip in the number of students who applied, were admitted and chose not to enroll, compared to previous years,” Siqueiros said.

Henry Perez, 46, a Los Angeles resident who entered UCLA in 1995 and is the executive director of the nonprofit organization InnerCity Struggle, remembers being part of "one of the last, if not the last," affirmative action classes in the public education system in California.

Perez said he saw the sharp decline of students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, in UCLA and the University of California system. "It was devastating — we saw diversity really, really go down.”

Siqueiros now worries that the same pattern may echo across other states following the Supreme Court's ruling.

“There is a very real message that is being heard by students about whether they belong and whether they’re welcomed at campuses,” Siqueiros said.

Should students of color still apply to selective schools?

Absolutely, experts say.

“It’s probably going to be more important than ever to encourage minority and other underrepresented students to still apply,” said Andrew Belasco, a counselor and the CEO of College Transitions, a company that advises students and families through the college admissions and financial aid process.

What’s worrisome about the ruling is the “chilling effect of students who feel like they don’t belong,” because they’re being told, in one interpretation of the decision, that their identities and who they are as students of color don’t matter, Santiago said. “The question of whether they belong or not, I think it’s real.”

Affirmative action ruling: 4 things students should know (1)
(Video) Harvard students ‘devastated’ after Supreme Court affirmative action ruling

What's important to note, experts say, is that race was just one factor used to determine admissions at some selective colleges and universities — along with students' academic records, extracurricular activities, essays, recommendations and standardized test scores for some schools.

“No university has ever used race alone to admit a student,” said Jasmin Pivaral,the director of college culture for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. “So again, that goes back to a lot of the misconceptions — there are already so many false narratives about how race is used in admissions."

While using race as a factor in admissions has drawn opposition for years, selective colleges and universities have always used other factors that have benefited more privileged students — such as whether an applicant's parent attended (what's known as a legacy admission) or whether an applicant went to a selective high school or boarding school.

Belasco said counselors like him are now making sure the ruling “does not communicate to underrepresented minorities that they should no longer consider some colleges.”

Against that background, it’s important to pay special attention to first-generation students, as well as to those who identify as Black or Latino, because they are more likely to “self-select out of going to a selective school,” said Eva Garza-Nyer, a counselor and the CEO of Texas College Advisor. “They’ll just assume ‘I have no chance.’”

(Video) Affirmative Action vs. Race-Neutral Admissions: A Case Study | WSJ

Studies show students of color have higher graduation rates when they attend selective colleges, earn more after graduation and build more robust career networks.

Yet the number of Black and Latino yearly graduates from 100 highly selective colleges that presumably use race as a factor in admissions represent only 1% of all students in four-year colleges, according to an estimate by Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon for The New York Times.

“What I would advise other counselors who are serving this population to do is to still encourage them to move forward and put their application out there,” Garza-Nyer said.

Does the ruling mean students can’t mention race when applying?


The new ruling says a college or university can’t use race as a factor in determining whether a student should be admitted.

But students can still convey their racial or ethnic backgrounds through extracurricular activities and other application materials, such as essays and personal statements.

“If there are opportunities within the application to talk more about their identity, for instance, if there were situations where their identity influenced anything from the majors they decided to pursue or the courses they decided to take or if there were issues where they faced and overcame discrimination of some kind," Belasco said, "those are going to be important things to talk about within the context of an application if they’re no longer able to indicate their race in an application.”

However, that advice may vary across institutions, said Ben-Dan of Temple University.

It's possible that some colleges and universities “may, on their own, in response to the Supreme Court decision, forbid candidates from using their race so it can be said that they’re making their decisions without regard to race," he said.

Here’s what the Supreme Court opinion stated: “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise."

(Video) Affirmative action ruling ‘a win for students,’ Asian-American student says

That essentially means that if students talk about their race or ethnic backgrounds in their essays or mission statements, "then the university can consider it, to the extent of the relevance," Ben-Dan said. However, "the court gave no guidance whatsoever as to how this consideration is supposed to happen."

The Supreme Court still made clear that race can't be used as one of the deciding factors in admissions, as it has been for some colleges and universities: "But, despite the dissent’s assertion to the contrary, universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today," the opinion said.


What is the new affirmative action ruling? ›

The Supreme Court's landmark decision on Thursday to gut affirmative action has made it unlawful for colleges to take race into consideration as a specific factor in admissions.

What is affirmative action for students? ›

Affirmative action is defined as a set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future. Applicants may be seeking admission to an educational program or looking for professional employment.

What was affirmative action quizlet? ›

Definition of Affirmative Action: -Steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in areas of employment, education, and business from which they have been historically excluded.

What is affirmative action for college admissions? ›

Affirmative action refers to any set of policies in place to ensure equal opportunity and prevent discrimination based on a broad range of identities, including race, sex, gender, religion, national origin and disability.

What are the three types of affirmative action plans? ›

Affirmative actions include training programs, outreach efforts, and other positive steps. These procedures should be incorporated into the company's written personnel policies.

Who are the students for fair admissions? ›

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) is an legal activist group headed by Edward Blum that files lawsuits over race based university practices. SFFA has been described by its opponents as an anti-affirmative action group that objects to the use of race as one of the factors in college admissions.

What are the affirmative action measures? ›

Affirmative action measures

Affirmative action measures are measures designed to ensure that suitably qualified people from designated groups have equal employment opportunities and are equitably represented in all occupational levels in the workforce of a designated employer.

What is affirmative action in simple terms? ›

Affirmative action refers to a policy aimed at increasing workplace and educational opportunities for people who are underrepresented in various areas of our society. It focuses on demographics with historically low representation in leadership and professional roles.

What factors do you think admissions boards should consider? ›

Students should know that many factors influence admission decisions, including:
  • Courses taken.
  • Grades received.
  • Class rank.
  • Standardized test scores.
  • Personal statements and essays.
  • Recommendations.
  • Extracurricular activities.
  • Interviews.

What is the major purpose of affirmative action programs? ›

The purpose of affirmative action is to establish fair access to employment opportunities to create a workforce that is an accurate reflection of the demographics of the qualified available workforce in the relevant job market.

Which group is considered a protected class? ›

Applicants, employees and former employees are protected from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 or older), disability and genetic information (including family medical history).

When was affirmative action used? ›

Affirmative action policies for higher learning institutions emerged in the 1960s as a popular method to combat racial inequality.

What is affirmative action in college facts? ›

As of 2022, nine states have banned affirmative action, with other states reversing (Texas) or failing to pass (Colorado) the measures. In 2022, nearly 3 in 4 (74%) people in the U.S. said that race or ethnicity should not be considered in college admissions.

When did affirmative action in education start? ›

It is one of the most contentious issues in US education. Affirmative action first made its way into policy in the 1960s, and has been defended as a measure to increase diversity. US President Joe Biden said he "strongly" disagreed with Thursday's much-anticipated decision.

When did colleges adopt affirmative action? ›

In the 1960s and 1970s, colleges and graduate schools began developing affirmative action policies to expand access to disadvantaged and underrepresented segments of society, including racial minorities.

What are the four goals of affirmative action? ›

Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances.

Are there four steps in an affirmative action program? ›

Four Key Components of an Affirmative Action Program
  • AAP Planning Process and Methodology.
  • Good Faith/Outreach Efforts.
  • Employee Awareness and Training.
  • Risk Mitigation.

How can I make my college admissions more fair? ›

Reduce preferences given to athletes and legacies, students whose parents graduated from a particular college. If every applicant were given the same attention as athletes and legacies — the majority in both cases are white — admissions decisions would result in a more diverse student body, Selingo said.

What is the goal of students for fair admissions? ›

Help Us Eliminate Race and Ethnicity from College Admissions

Students for Fair Admissions is a nonprofit membership group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.

What was the students for fair admissions controversy? ›

Facts of the case. Petitioner Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) sued Harvard College over its admissions process, alleging that the process violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Asian American applicants in favor of white applicants.

What is an example of an affirmative action case? ›

Allan Bakke sued the University of California, Davis, after he was rejected twice from its medical school, claiming that setting aside 16 seats for minority students in a class of 100 was discriminatory against him as a white man.

What are the two kinds of affirmative action? ›

What is an Affirmative Action Plan (AAP)? Two types of affirmative action plans are required — the AAP for Minorities and Females, which consists of statistical and narrative sections, and the AAP for Veterans and Individuals with Disabilities, which consists of a narrative section only.

What are the race categories for affirmative action? ›

White (not Hispanic or Latino) Black or African American (not Hispanic or Latino) Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (not Hispanic or Latino) Asian (not Hispanic or Latino)

What is the conclusion of the affirmative action? ›

In conclusion, affirmative action is a legal policy designed to correct past discrimination and promote equal opportunity for people who have been historically discriminated against.

What is the meaning of affirmative education? ›

(noun) The act or practice of giving preferential treatment (e.g., education or employment opportunities) to underrepresented groups such as the disabled, the elderly, ethnic minorities, and women who have experienced discrimination in the past.

What is affirmative action and its effects? ›

Affirmative Action regulation forbids employers to discriminate against individuals because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in decisions regarding hiring, firing, compensation or other forms of employment.

What 2 factors are very important for admission? ›

What are the Most Important Factors in College Admissions?
  • Grades in college prep courses. ...
  • Strength of curriculum. ...
  • Admission test scores. ...
  • Grades in all courses. ...
  • Extracurricular commitment. ...
  • Letters of recommendation. ...
  • Essay or writing sample. ...
  • Demonstrated interest.

What are the 5 most important factors in deciding a college? ›

Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you'll make in your lifetime. Before making your choice, consider these factors: cost, location, size, your interests, campus life, graduation rates, and the potential return on your investment.

What are the four factors in deciding if a school is a good fit? ›

Elements such as school setting, academic offerings, student support services, and residence life options all play major roles in determining if a school is a right fit for you.

What are some factors that may be considered in the development of an organizational affirmative action plan? ›

The Businesses Affirmative Action Affects
  • The plan must show there has been past discrimination. Companies don't have to admit they discriminated in the past, but some factual basis for the plan must exist. ...
  • The plan must not “unnecessarily trammel” the rights of incumbent workers. ...
  • The plan must be temporary.

What are the two characteristics of affirmative action programs quizlet? ›

Affirmative action programs involve efforts to avoid recruiting, hiring, training, and promoting qualified individuals from groups that have traditionally been discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, or other characteristics.

Which of the following is the most plausible argument for affirmative action? ›

Of these four arguments, which of the following is the most plausible argument FOR affirmative action? It is necessary to break the cycle that keeps minorities and women locked into low-paying, low-prestige jobs.

What are the 4 protected classes? ›

Protected Classes
  • Race.
  • Color.
  • Religion (includes religious dress and grooming practices)
  • Sex/gender (includes pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and/ or related medical conditions)
  • Gender identity, gender expression.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Marital status.

What are the 4 protected classes under Title 7? ›

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in virtually every employment circumstance on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, pregnancy, or national origin.

What are the 10 protected characteristics? ›

Protected characteristics

These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

What was the first affirmative action case? ›

Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States which involved a dispute of whether preferential treatment for minorities can reduce educational opportunities for whites without violating the Constitution.

Why did the Supreme Court strike down affirmative action? ›

Justice Clarence Thomas — the nation's second Black justice, who had long called for an end to affirmative action — wrote separately that the decision “sees the universities' admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes.”

What does the affirmative action ban mean? ›

The Supreme Court's ban on affirmative action means colleges will struggle to meet goals of diversity and equal opportunity. After extensive deliberation, the Supreme Court has delivered a landmark ruling that effectively prohibits the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

What are 3 examples of affirmative action? ›

Outreach campaigns, targeted recruitment, employee and management development, and employee support programs are examples of affirmative action in employment.

What is the affirmative action for students? ›

What Is Affirmative Action? In a higher education context, affirmative action – which stemmed from the civil rights movement in the 1960s – is the practice of considering student background characteristics such as race as a factor in deciding whether to admit an applicant.

What are the key facts about affirmative action? ›

Affirmative action is defined as a set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future. Applicants may be seeking admission to an educational program or looking for professional employment.

What is the Harvard affirmative action case? ›

Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, 600 U.S. ___ (2023), is a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the court held that race-based affirmative action programs in college admissions processes violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Who dissented in affirmative action case? ›

Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and a vocal proponent of race-based affirmative action, wrote the dissenting opinion joined by the court's two other liberal justices.

What two universities banned affirmative action? ›

Enrollment at the University of Michigan Law School and the University of California, Berkeley School of Law among Black, Hispanic and Native American first-year students plummeted after both states banned affirmative action in public university admissions.

Do college students support affirmative action? ›

Almost half of students (45%) agree that banning the use of race/ethnicity in college admissions is most fair. Only 24% disagree. A nearly equal number of white respondents are for (37%) or against (36%) affirmative action. College men (40%) are more likely than college women (35%) to support affirmative action.

What states have gotten rid of affirmative action? ›

The short answer is yes. State-level bans on using race-based affirmative action in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington have already given the country a glimpse of the consequences of prohibiting such a practice.

How did Supreme Court vote on affirmative action? ›

The Supreme Court decided 6-3 and 6-2 that race-conscious admission policies of the University of North Carolina and Harvard College violate the Constitution, effectively bringing to an end to affirmative action in higher education through a decision that will reverberate across campuses nationwide.

When did affirmative action change? ›

During the November 5, 1996 election, California voters voted 54% to 46% to amend the California Constitution through an initiative commonly known as Proposition 209, or the California Civil Rights Initiative. The proposition has been incorporated into the California Constitution under Article 1, Section 31.

What are the disadvantages of affirmative action in education? ›

Perhaps the most tragic side effect of affirmative action is that very significant achievements of minority students can become compromised. It is often not possible to tell whether a given student genuinely deserved admission to Stanford, or whether he is there by virtue of fitting into some sort of diversity matrix.

What is an example of an affirmative action policy? ›

It is the policy of [Company Name] to provide equal employment opportunities without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, genetic information or any other protected characteristic under applicable law.

Do colleges have quotas for high schools? ›

The simple answer is no, colleges do not have a set quota for the number of students from any particular high school.

What is the purpose of affirmative action laws? ›

Affirmative Action legislation rules concern opportunities for historically excluded categories of persons, and their rights to protection from discrimination, bias, and discrepancies in distribution of compensation and benefits under law. Affirmative action policies usually focus on employment and education.

What is one argument in favor of affirmative action? ›

In support of Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action is designed to end the discrimination of people based on race and nationality. It is a way to give non-whites an opportunity to have decent jobs and add to the diversity at any work place.

How many colleges use affirmative action? ›

State data
[hide]Historical consideration of race at public four-year universities in the United States
StateState banPublic 4-year colleges
49 more rows

Has the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action? ›

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

Is affirmative action a federal law? ›

Workplace DEI and affirmative action programs are governed by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other federal and state employment anti‑discrimination laws. Using protected classes, such as race, to make employment decisions is generally illegal under these laws.

What is executive order 11114? ›

Executive Order 11114—Extending the Authority of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.


1. Understanding the Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action
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2. Supreme Court ends affirmative action in college admissions | full coverage
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3. Biden reacts to Supreme Court ending affirmative action in college admissions | full video
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4. Supreme Court strikes down use of affirmative action in college admissions
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5. Supreme Court limits affirmative action in college admissions
6. Students react to Supreme Court’s ruling to end affirmative action in college admissions | ABC News
(ABC News)


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