Biden Administration Recommends Alternatives to Race-Conscious College Admissions

The Department of Education released guidance for colleges to promote diversity in the wake of the Supreme Court's strike-down of affirmative action.
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Published on October 2, 2023
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  • The U.S. Supreme Court banned using race as a factor in college admissions in June.
  • The Biden administration released a report, recommending strategies for colleges to promote diversity.
  • Recruiting in lower-income communities with more students of color, increasing affordability, and adopting holistic review could improve diversity, according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that affirmative action in college admissions was unconstitutional, striking down a 40-year precedent that allowed schools to consider race in admissions. The Biden administration knew what happened in states that had already done away with affirmative action — declines in Latino/a and Black student enrollment.

President Joe Biden called on the U.S. Department of Education to inform colleges and universities about ways they can promote diversity on campus despite the ruling. So, the department released a report Sept. 28 outlining its recommendations.

Colleges and universities may have lost a vital tool for creating vibrant, diverse campus communities, but this report makes clear that they need not — and must not — lose their commitment to equal opportunity and student body diversity, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in the report. Our country's future depends on it.

The report — titled Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education — suggests:

  • Recruiting in communities with higher proportions of low-income students and students of color
  • Using a holistic review to consider how students have overcome adversity, demonstrating resilience
  • Relying less on standardized tests
  • Lowering the cost of college

Our country's greatest strength is the diversity of our people, Undersecretary of Education James Kvaal said in a press release.

That's why we're calling upon state, college, and university leaders to renew their commitments to opportunity for all students. Moving forward, we will work with institutions and leaders across the country to ensure we can continue to make progress in closing equity gaps in higher education so that all students can reap the benefits of college degrees and credentials.

Recruiting in Communities of Color

The report recommends that colleges and universities target their recruiting efforts toward low-income communities with higher percentages of students of color. It noted that the K-12 schools in these communities often don't have the resources necessary to prepare students for college.

Offering pathways programs in these communities, the report notes, can also increase diversity. Pathways programs include summer programs on college campuses, dual enrollment, career and technical education, and more.

Part of outreach to lower-income schools includes increasing access to college counseling. The report recommends that states implement funding for more college counselor roles so students have equal access to the information they need to be ready for college.

Rethinking Admissions Strategies

Holistic admissions practices — ones that consider more than just GPA and test scores — can help advance diversity in college, according to the report.

The report suggests reviewing family income data, after-school work, and other factors to round out applications.

The department also recommends emphasizing adversity, resiliency, and inspiration. This means schools can consider the hardships students have faced.

The report also calls legacy admissions — which gives children of alumni an advantage — into question.

There is a growing body of evidence that some practices, such as preferences in admissions for legacy candidates or the relatives of alumni, may further advantage privileged communities in a manner that is at odds with expanding educational opportunity, the report states.

Lowering College Costs

College tuition has nearly tripled in the last 50 years, and according to the report, it doesn't just impact low-income students more. It impacts nonwhite students more.

Because of a legacy of systemic racism, lack of wealth-building opportunities, and ongoing disparities in access to economic security, students of color often struggle, even those who might not be considered low-income, the report says.

By decreasing the financial burden of college, the report says more diverse candidates will be able to get degrees. And the report calls on states to adequately fund their higher education institutions so they can decrease tuition.

However, the report notes that while decreasing the cost of college and tweaking admissions can attract a diverse student body, it's null and void if the students don't feel like they belong.

The environment that students experience throughout their higher education career is an important consideration for institutions, the report says.

Particularly for underrepresented students, campus climate, or the perceptions and feelings students have about a campus environment, can influence enrollment and retention rates by shaping their sense of belonging at an institution.