Yale Changes Admissions Policies Following Affirmative Action Decision

Avoiding further legal action, Yale amends its policies to become race-neutral in admissions decisions.
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Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., is a senior writer and higher education analyst with BestColleges. He has 30 years of experience in higher education as a university administrator and faculty member and teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University. A former...
Published on September 11, 2023
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  • Yale College announced changes to its admissions policies following the Supreme Court's decision on race-conscious admissions.
  • These changes settle a lawsuit filed against the university by Students for Fair Admissions.
  • Yale will not see racial data in admissions reports, nor will race be a factor in financial aid.
  • The university will redouble its outreach efforts to target underrepresented students.

Yale College recently announced changes to its admissions policies in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling on affirmative action.

Those changes officially bring closure to a lawsuit filed against Yale by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the same group that successfully challenged admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the two defendants in the Supreme Court case.

The group sued Yale in 2021, and the case was stayed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling. Following the court's decision, the stay was lifted, leading to an agreement between SFFA and Yale that dismisses the case.

According to a "Joint Statement of Voluntary Dismissal," Yale will ensure that no one involved in admissions decisions will have access to the checkbox indicating race, nor will the admissions office run any reports aggregating data on student racial diversity. What's more, Yale agrees that race will not be a factor in financial aid calculations.

SFFA president Ed Blum said in a statement to USA Today that his group was "satisfied for now" by Yale's policy changes.

The racial checkbox concession conforms with SFFA's mandates outlined in a letter to universities soon after the Supreme Court decision. Even before the court's ruling, the Common App had given colleges the option to hide "race box" information.

In a message to the Yale College community, Pericles Lewis, dean of Yale College, and Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid, clarified that while admissions officers "will not have access to applicants' self-identified race and/or ethnicity," they can, as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, consider "an applicant's discussion of how race affected the applicant's life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability."

As such, Yale has updated its application questions for this fall's admissions cycle, adding essay prompts enabling applicants to "reflect on an element of their personal experience, their membership in a community, or an experience discussing an issue with someone holding an opposing view."

The university is quick to note that the final part of the agreement — regarding the consideration of race in awarding financial aid — simply confirms existing practices.

"That is not new policy — that is pre-existing policy," Quinlan told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "We don't look at race at all. We look at students' family income and assets. Our formula is completely driven by those, and that's the way it has been for decades."

In their joint letter to the Yale community, Quinlan and Lewis outlined numerous steps the university plans to take to help ensure the admissions pipeline remains appropriately diverse. These steps include the following:

  • Hiring two full-time admissions officers to "increase year-round engagement with college access organizations and oversee new student-focused outreach initiatives."
  • Expanding the university's "Multicultural Open House," launching a program to "provide travel support and overnight stays to a group of prospective students," and creating "new outreach events and programs for students from rural and small-town backgrounds."
  • Developing admissions programs with New Haven public school students and providing "early educational outreach material" for students in grades 8-10.
  • Forming relationships with leaders of college access organizations and school counselors serving students from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • Planning a "high-impact college preparatory summer program for high-achieving students from underrepresented backgrounds" within two years.

As universities nationwide adapt to new realities resulting from the Supreme Court decision ending affirmative action, many no doubt will adopt policies and practices similar to Yale's. The challenge lies in promoting diversity without favoring it — a delicate tightrope to walk.

"This is incredibly important and serious work," Quinlan told The Chronicle. "There's a lot of anxiety out there, and we really wanted to convey to folks that, obviously, the law has changed, but what we value has not. We're going to redouble our efforts to get messages out there about affordability and diversity."