November 29, 2023

As the higher education world waits for a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected to overturn race-conscious admissions policies, a new report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce offers further evidence of what the post-affirmative action situation might look like. as. His findings are unequivocal: selective colleges and universities are likely to become less ethnically and racially diverse. And while some admissions models using socioeconomic status (SES) have allowed colleges to match or even slightly exceed current levels of diversity, they require systemic changes to admissions practices that are not considered realistic.

Dr.  Anthony P. Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report.Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report.“It’s hard to make it a good news story,” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of CEW and lead author of the report.

Carnevale and his co-authors simulated six possible admissions models for 290,000 slots at nearly 200 selected schools. In two models, they expanded the consideration of race and ethnicity nationwide, and in four they removed them entirely. Several models used SES as a factor in combination with high school grades and academic achievement (based on factors such as grades and standardized test scores). The researchers also varied the groups of applicants, in some models trying to realistically represent who would apply and in some models using the entire high school graduating class. None of the models considered older admissions, athlete preferences and other advantages that typically favor wealthier white applicants because the data were not available.

The simulations showed that models that expanded race-conscious admissions, rather than prohibiting it, approximated the increasingly diverse racial and ethnic composition of high school graduates. African American, Hispanic, and Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students were underrepresented in all models that ignored race and ethnicity.

Indeed, the researchers found that a class-conscious admissions policy—that is, one that considers SES—could help offset the ban on affirmative action by allowing schools to “gain” some degree of diversity, or even exceed their current levels. In one model that considered academic merit and SES, the Hispanic share increased 0.5 percentage points from fall 2020 levels to 14.6%, and the African American share increased 0.4 points to 6.3%. However, this scenario included every single selective college that used SES in admissions and did not include older admissions, athlete preferences, and the like—a highly unrealistic scenario.

The model also resulted in a lower representation of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students: their percentage dropped from 0.3% to 0.2%. This mirrored the results of almost all other models that Dr. Zachary Bleemer, an assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of Management, attributed sharp differences in access to education. The only model in which the share of all underrepresented groups increased was one where colleges directly admitted students from the entire graduating class, not just those who specifically applied, a reversal of the admissions system that seems nearly impossible.

“In a realistic world where the Supreme Court bans the use of race in admissions and selective colleges maintain preferences for heritage and other privileged groups, we won’t see the types of racial and class diversity we show are possible,” said Dr. Zachary Mabel, research professor of education and economics at CEW and co-author of the report. “If you’re fundamentally changing the way college admissions works, you can get back or even overrepresent some underrepresented groups, but in a world where you’re getting rid of race but maintaining the status quo for everyone else. , you just see a lot of declines in racial diversity on campus.”

Dr.  Zachary Bleemer, assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of ManagementDr. Zachary Bleemer, assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of ManagementBarring a major restructuring of the admissions process, colleges will need to rely more on the techniques they already use, as well as develop new ones, according to Bleemer. These could include using SES, making more efforts to recruit in majority-minority neighborhoods and disadvantaged high schools, and developing top 10% plans in which top-performing high school graduates are offered automatic admission. Schools can also change their emphasis on standardized tests and focus more on holistically reviewing applications, taking into account factors such as whether an applicant has enslaved ancestors, is a member of a tribe, or participates in extracurricular activities with ethnic or racial themes. Whether the Supreme Court will allow these kinds of racial proxies, however, remains to be seen.

According to Dr. Efforts to recruit more diverse applicant pools may soon be in jeopardy, according to Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Anything to diversify or add capital or include underserved groups is challenged right now,” she said, citing a wave of anti-diversity and laws restricting DEI efforts in 17 states, including Florida and Texas. “They remove any form of outreach that might go into communities of color to even consider going to certain types of colleges.”

Overall, Bleemer said, the near future for campus diversity is bleak, even for institutions trying to implement alternatives to race-conscious affirmative action.

“Public universities have been experimenting for 20 years and have hardly moved the needle,” he said, referring to efforts in states where affirmative action has been banned.

Carnevale was more emphatic.

“It will limit our ability to have racial diversity at elite institutions, period,” he said.

Jon Edelman can be reached at

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