Race-Based Scholarships by Colleges Considered Unconstitutional in Ohio

Ohio colleges are reevaluating some of their scholarships following the attorney general's guidance that the U.S. Supreme Court's ban on race-conscious admissions policies includes race-based scholarships.
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Published on March 12, 2024
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  • The U.S. Supreme Court deemed race-conscious admissions practices unconstitutional last year.
  • Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost determined race-based scholarships are considered race-conscious admissions practices.
  • Ohio University paused awarding some of these scholarships, but current and previously awarded scholarships aren't affected.

According to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, race-based scholarships offered by colleges in the state are considered unconstitutional.

A day after the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2023 decision to end race-conscious admissions, Yost sent a letter to Ohio college and university leadership, warning them to strictly comply with the decision. And, according to Yost's media representative, he told the universities in a Jan. 26 call that the decision includes race-based scholarships.

The majority opinion expressly holds that disguised race-conscious admissions policies are race-conscious admissions policies all the same, Yost's letter said.

Now, some Ohio colleges and universities are pausing and reviewing scholarships with race-based language to ensure compliance.

Although the court did not expressly prohibit race-based scholarships, it indicated that eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it, Yost's representative told BestColleges on March 6. Race-based scholarships discriminate on the basis of race in awarding benefits. Therefore, it would follow that such programs are unconstitutional.

Ohio University (OU) said it is pausing some scholarships to comply with the Supreme Court's decision and Ohio's interpretation.

OU said in a press release that a review of its scholarships found a small but important subset that may need to be revised. Scholarships already awarded and renewing scholarships to current students will not be affected.

This necessary work in no way changes our values as an institution, which include a commitment to fostering an inclusive university community where all students — regardless of race, background, gender, religion, or disability — are welcome and feel a sense of belonging, the university said in a statement.

Ending race-conscious admissions and race-based scholarships aren't the only ways states have stymied diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in higher education.

Last March, Ohio Republican state Sen. Jerry C. Cirino introduced Senate Bill 83, an anti-DEI bill.

Previously, the bill would have banned diversity training at all institutions. However, after several revisions, it now allows universities to teach DEI only for the university's licensing, accreditation, and grants. The bill also prevents cooperation with Chinese colleges.

Senate Bill 83 is another sweeping attempt by Ohio legislators to mimic the worst impulses of the Florida government by importing extremist gag orders targeting higher education, policy group Honesty for Ohio Education said in a statement on the first version of the bill.

This latest attack on honest education, diversity, equity, and inclusion, worker rights, and Asian culture is an affront to all who believe in honest, inclusive education and a multiracial democracy.

A September 2023 report said Ohio's proposed DEI program ban is a way to defund initiatives, programs, and staff that directly support Black students. According to the Ohio Black Student Equity Report report, over half of Black Ohio college students who were surveyed said they were discriminated against at college because of their race. The report's recommendations included boosting higher education access with funding and grants since Black college attainment rates in Ohio are below the national average.

Since anti-DEI laws have gone into effect in Florida and Texas, student-led organizations have picked up where discontinued DEI programs and offices left off.

The University of Texas at Austin closed the Monarch program — a program for undocumented students — following Texas' ban on DEI offices under Senate Bill 17, which became law Jan. 1.

Monarch provided advising, mentoring, mental health support, a scholarship, and financial workshops to undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students and students with temporary status in the U.S. Rooted, a student-run organization for immigrant students, has been continuing some programs in Monarch's place.

Because of the discontinuation of the Monarch program, there are now no dedicated programs providing services for students who are undocumented, hold temporary status, or are from mixed-status families, Rooted said in its statement.

The burden once again falls to students to provide their own services and resources.