December 3, 2023

Diving overview:

  • Selective colleges would strive to create diverse student bodies if they could not consider race as an admissions factor, according to new modeling from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • Georgetown CEW studied six scenarios. In four of them, colleges were barred from using a race-conscious admissions process, which the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to curtail when it rules later this year in cases challenging the practice. In these CEW examples, colleges were extremely unlikely to put together a pool of admitted students that matched the demographics of the nation’s high school graduating class.
  • The center did not include preferences toward athletes or older admissions in its analysis. But she noted that these two practices benefit white, wealthy applicants, and if continued, selective colleges would make their classes even less diverse.

Diving statistics:

Supreme Court in October heard oral arguments in two lawsuits challenging racially oriented policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A decision is expected before the High Court retreats by the end of June.

Scholars widely expect the high court to curb race-conscious confessions in some way because the conservative justices who control the majority have publicly signaled their skepticism about such practices.

Ruling against a racially conscious confession will only pay directly to a small sliver of colleges because most institutions accept most applicants. But admissions professionals still fearing a high-profile decision would signal to disadvantaged students that they are not welcome in higher education.

Georgetown CEW modeled six scenarios in which researchers filled 290,000 theoretical seats at nearly 200 highly selective colleges — which the center designated as institutions that generally admit half or fewer of the applicants.

Researchers have found that the most effective way to boost diversity at selective colleges is to consider race in the admissions process. They examined a model that considered academic merit exclusively, as well as models that included socioeconomic status, which some critics of affirmative action argue is a better metric for targeting and enrolling historically marginalized students. According to Georgetown CEW, students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are underrepresented in selective schools across most racial and ethnic groups.

But accounting for applicant wealth would only partially “pull out,” preserve or improve the diversity of the student body, depending on the scenario — and only for Hispanic or black students, the center found. Shares of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students decline under every model that is class-based.

If the high court were to ban race-conscious practices, the best-case scenario would be a modest increase in the representation of black and Hispanic students at selective schools, the report said. However, they would still remain deeply underrepresented at selective colleges relative to their share of the high school graduating class.

“Our models make one thing abundantly clear: the most effective way to increase socioeconomic diversity at selective colleges is to consider race in the admissions process, not ignore it,” Georgetown CEW Director Anthony Carnevale said in a statement. “The prevailing notion is that race-conscious admissions practices privilege only the wealthiest members of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, but this does not hold up under scrutiny.”

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