The Department of Justice and Department of Education jointly released guidance on Monday to colleges and universities about how to consider race in admissions decisions, following the Supreme Court’s summer decision that struck down affirmative action in higher education.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, on a call with reporters, said higher education institutions can continue to participate in targeted outreach programs in underserved communities as a way to recruit students from a diverse background.
“Remember, nothing in the court’s decision denied the value of diversity in education,” he said.
Cardona said in the coming weeks, the agency will issue a report that outlines comprehensive strategies for colleges and universities to “lawfully cultivate diverse applicant pools and achieve (a) diverse student body.”
“These resources provide some clarity about the admissions practices for achieving racial diversity that remain lawful,” Cardona said.
On June 29, in a 6-3 decision, the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court ruled that the admissions processes at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because those institutions considered race in acceptances.
The guidance acknowledges that following the Supreme Court’s decision, higher institutions may have to redouble “efforts to recruit and retain talented students from underserved communities, including those with large numbers of students of color.” Some of those efforts might also include a “greater focus on fostering a sense of belonging for students currently enrolled,” according to the guidance.
Colleges and universities can also partner with school districts in underserved communities by “supporting improved access to high quality advanced courses, and investing time and resources into programs that identify and nurture students’ potential.” By doing so, “colleges and universities can ensure that more students will be prepared to apply to colleges and universities, gain admission, succeed, and graduate,” the department said.
Associate Attorney General of the United States Vanita Gupta said on the call with reporters that the Supreme Court’s decision “should not be used as an excuse to turn away from long-standing efforts to make those institutions more inclusive.”
“On the top line issue of considering race and admissions, colleges and universities can and should continue to ensure that their doors are open to those students of all backgrounds, including students of color, who possess the characteristics necessary to succeed and contribute on college campuses and in the world,” Gupta said.
The guidance clarifies that the court’s decision does not prevent higher education institutions from reviewing data on race and ethnicity, but that “institutions should ensure that the racial demographics of the applicant pool do not influence admissions decisions.”
The top Democrat on the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, said in a statement that Monday’s guidance “can serve as a resource to help colleges and universities understand the Court’s decision as they commit to pursue diverse campuses.”
He added that the Department of Education should also investigate “how race unjustly permeates many other policies and practices in our educational system.”
“This is important because race-conscious admissions policies were able to provide a counterbalance to factors — such as inequitable K-12 schools, racially biased admissions tests, and developmental and legacy admissions — that have discriminatory impact against students of color,” he said.