New guidelines from the Biden administration on Monday urge colleges to use a range of strategies to promote racial diversity on campus after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in admissions.
For example, colleges can target their recruiting to high-minority areas and take steps to retain students of color already on campus, including by offering affinity clubs that target students of a certain race. Colleges may also consider how an applicant’s race has shaped personal experience, as described in students’ application essays or letters of recommendation, according to the new guidelines.
It also encourages them to consider ending policies known to limit racial diversity, including preferences for older students and the children of donors.
“Ensuring access to higher education for students from diverse backgrounds is one of the most powerful tools we have to prepare graduates to lead an increasingly diverse country and deliver on the promise of opportunity for all,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement.
The guidance, from the Departments of Justice and Education, comes as colleges across the country try to navigate a new era of admissions without the use of affirmative action. Schools work to promote racial diversity without legal action by opponents of affirmative action.
Students for Fair Admission, the group that took the issue to the Supreme Court through lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, sent a letter to 150 universities in July telling them to “take immediate steps to prevent the use of race as a factor”. on recordings.”
In its guidance, the Biden administration offers a set of policies colleges can use “to achieve a student body that is diverse across a range of factors, including race and ethnicity.”
It also provides clarity on how colleges might consider race in the context of an applicant’s individual experience. The court’s decision prohibits colleges from considering race as a factor in itself, but nothing prohibits colleges from considering “an applicant’s discussion of the impact of race on the applicant’s life,” the court wrote.
How to approach that line without crossing it has been a challenge for colleges as they must rework admissions systems before another wave of applications begins in the fall.
The guidance offers examples of how colleges “can provide opportunities to assess applicants’ individual backgrounds and traits — including those related to their race.”
“A university might consider an applicant’s explanation of what it means to him to be the first black violinist in his town’s youth orchestra or an applicant’s story of overcoming prejudice as she transferred to a high school at the countryside where she was the only student of South Asian descent. ”, said the guidance.
Schools may also consider a letter of recommendation describing how a student “overcame her feelings of isolation as a Latina student at a predominantly white high school to join the debate team,” it says.
Students should feel comfortable sharing “their whole selves” in the application process, the administration said. Previously, many students had expressed confusion about whether the court’s decision prevented them from discussing their race in essays and interviews.
The administration clarified that colleges need not ignore race when choosing where to focus their recruiting efforts. The court’s decision does not prohibit schools from directing recruiting efforts to schools that primarily serve students of color or low-income students, it says.
In violation of a Students for Fair Admissions guideline, the new guideline says colleges can legally collect data on the race of students and applicants as long as it does not affect admissions decisions.
Echoing previous comments by President Joe Biden, the directive urges colleges to reconsider policies that tend to favor white, wealthy applicants. “Nothing in the decision prevents an institution from determining whether preferences for, say, legacy students or children of donors conflict with efforts to promote equal opportunity for all students,” the guidance said.
At the same time, the Justice and Education Departments warned they are ready to investigate whether schools fail to provide equal access to students of all races, adding that the administration “will vigorously enforce civil rights protections.”
The guidance comes as colleges work to prevent the kind of decline in diversity seen in some states that previously ended affirmative action, including in California and Michigan. Selective colleges in those states saw enrollments of minority students plummet, and some have struggled for decades to recover.
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