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Biden to Colleges: Use Diversity in Your Admissions Decisions Anyway

The president excoriated the court’s conservative justices and proposed new admission standards for colleges and universities to adopt after the Supreme Court rolled back race-based admissions policies.

President Joe Biden urged colleges and universities to continue using race, income and other measures of diversity and adversity as part of their admissions process in the wake of a pair of blistering decisions from the Supreme Court that bars the use of race in college admissions.

Colleges and universities “should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experiences that reflect all of America,” Biden said, speaking from the Roosevelt Room on Thursday.

The court’s decisions to overturn decades of precedent all but ensures a decline in enrollment at elite schools for Black and Hispanic students and establishes a new narrative that institutions of higher education no longer need race-based admissions policies that help boost diversity. The watershed moment comes as the country grapples with entrenched divisions over the historic impact of systemic racism and institutions of higher education struggle to expand access to students of color in the wake of a once-in-a-generation pandemic that decimated their enrollment.

Biden, in remarks that excoriated the court’s conservative justices, proposed new admission standards for colleges and universities to adopt – a process that takes into account “the adversity” a student has overcome when selecting among its qualified applicants.

“Diversity should be considered, including students’ lack of financial means,” Biden said.

“We know too few students of low-income families, whether from big cities or rural communities, aren’t getting an opportunity to go to college,” he said. “A poor kid, a poor kid maybe the first in their family to go to college, gets the same grades and test scores as the wealthy kid whose whole family has gone to the most elite colleges in the country and whose path has been a lot easier. Well, the kid who faced tougher challenges has demonstrated more grit, more determination and that should be a factor that colleges take into account with admissions.”

As part of the newly proposed standard, Biden urged admissions boards to examine the financial means of a student or their family, including where a student grew up and went to high school and the personal experiences of hardship or discrimination, including racial discrimination, that a student may have faced.

Biden quoted from Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion in which he wrote that “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” to underscore his point.

“It means understanding particular hardships that each individual student has faced in life, including racial discrimination that individuals have faced in their own life,” Biden stressed. “Because the truth is, and we all know it, discrimination still exists in America. Discrimination still exists in america. Today’s decision does not change that. It’s a simple fact.”

In light of the Supreme Court’s repeal of the use of race in admissions practices, Biden tasked the Education Department with analyzing admissions practices that “build more inclusive and diverse” student bodies and those that inhibit diversity.

“A practice like legacy admissions and other systems expand privilege instead of opportunity,” Biden noted.

As it stands, nine states bar the use of race in admissions policies at public colleges and universities, including Arizona, California Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

After California voters adopted Proposition 209 in 1996, which barred public colleges and universities from using affirmative action in admissions, Black enrollment at UCLA and UC Berkeley dropped from 7% to 3%, and roughly 10,000 Black and Latino students disappeared from the University of California system altogether.

Notably, many schools have already leaned on income and poverty as a proxy for race, but to date it hasn’t been effective – especially when it comes to admitting Latino students. Indeed, academic research shows that admissions policies that focus on class or income instead of race often modestly advantage poor white applicants while also strengthening the structural status quo that keeps those at the top at the top and those at the bottom at the bottom.

In an amicus brief it filed to the court in support of race-conscious admissions, the system admitted that it’s failed to achieve racial diversity since the proposition was passed. (Voters in California had the opportunity to repeal it in 2020, but more than 57% of Californians voted no on the ballot measure, known as Proposition 16.)

In fact, for roughly a decade now college and university leaders have been toying with ways to ensure the diversity of their campuses outside of race-based policies. Their efforts have mostly focused on making standardized tests like the SAT and ACT optional, waiving application fees, eliminating preferential treatment for children of alumni (known as “legacy admissions”) and those of donors, lowering the premium on recruited athletes, increasing the premium on first-generation applicants and developing better strategies to recruit students from low-income and racially diverse neighborhoods.

For its part, the testing company College Board provides to admission officers a kind of diversity profile for its test-takers, which includes bulleted information about a student’s high school and neighborhood, such as neighborhood crime rates, education levels and median family income.

But analyses outlined in a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that nothing substitutes for explicitly considering race or ethnicity in admissions when trying to promote diversity and that studies of efforts to sustain enrollments of students of color at selective public universities in California, Florida, Texas and other states have failed to find a single case where alternatives to race-conscious admissions succeeded in preventing enrollment declines among those students.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona urged students of color not to be deterred by the ruling – speaking to a well-known reality in states that cannot take race into account that enrollment drops among students of color not only because fewer are accepted but because they stop applying altogether.

“I want to send a message to all aspiring students, especially Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and other students from underserved communities: we see you and we need you. Do not let this ruling deter you from pursuing your educational potential.”

Source : usnews