Has the U.S. Supreme Court just ruined the college experience? If you ask President Joe Biden’s administration, the answer is yes. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says America has reached “a new low point.”
In June, the Court’s long-awaited decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and UNC (decided together) struck down the use of racial preferences in college admissions. School officials had employed these discriminatory preferences for decades, so Cardona is correct: The Court’s decision does mark an end to higher education as we know it.
Yet, to paraphrase a song from the ’80s about the end of the world, we should all feel fine.
The Ed Department’s panelists bemoaned the affirmative-action ruling and tried to explain why race matters more than behavior.The use of racial preferences violated the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while also robbing students of the dignity that comes from effort and earning your own success. But that didn’t stop U.S. Department of Education bureaucrats from gathering for a day-long conference less than a month after the ruling to decry the decision—this despite the session’s claim that speakers were there to “discuss innovative strategies and resources for colleges and students to expand access to higher education.”
Instead, panelists bemoaned the SFFA ruling and tried to explain why your race and ethnicity matter more than your behavior and decisions.
Cardona said that America faces a “crisis” after the ruling. Yet surveys have found strong opposition to the use of racial preferences, which means that most Americans would not consider the abolition of the practice to be creating a “crisis.” In 2019, a Pew Research survey found that 73 percent of respondents opposed the use of race in college admissions. Earlier this year, Pew Research asked respondents again and found that opposition had only increased, with 82 percent of respondents opposing the practice.
Cardona has the situation backwards: Americans have been waiting for a ruling such as this.
Stephanie Rodriguez, New Mexico Secretary of Higher Education, told the audience that the Court’s decision “guts decades of progress that we have made as a country,” but it’s not clear what she means by progress. The use of such preferences has not helped students succeed. In fact, the use of racial preferences has depressed student achievement. According to the research of Richard Sander and others, black students are one-third more likely than white students with similar academic and personal characteristics to start college. Yet black students are less likely than their white peers to finish.
Admissions officers at selective colleges and graduate schools have used racial preferences to admit lower-performing students, creating a mismatch between students and schools. High-achieving black and Hispanic students are already qualified to attend Ivy League schools, for example, but minority students with lower qualifications, for whom college officials awarded preferences, have struggled at top-tier institutions. They are more likely to earn lower grades and not complete a degree.
Admissions officers have used racial preferences to admit lower-performing students.The mismatches that racial preferences cause also result in worse outcomes for graduates when they enter the job market. For example, research has demonstrated that black students admitted to law school using racial preferences perform worse on the bar exam, resulting in far fewer opportunities after they graduate.
Gary S. May, chancellor of the University of California-Davis, was another panelist at the Education Department’s event who denounced the ruling, saying “nothing could be more negative for educational outcomes for our country.” May should know better, though, since California voters banned racial preferences in public hiring and university admissions with Proposition 209 in 1996. In subsequent years, more academically successful black students applied to public institutions in California, and the yield rate—the rate at which students who are offered a seat accept the invitation—also increased. Graduation rates for black students improved, as well.
The Education Department released guidelines earlier this month for college administrators to use following the Supreme Court’s decision. Given the Biden administration’s criticism of the Court and support for racial preferences, students, families, and lawmakers should monitor what school personnel do next.
Following Prop 209, Professor Sander found that admissions officers at schools such as the University of California-Los Angeles tried to go around the measure and continue using racial preferences. Taxpayers and lawmakers should be on the lookout for schools seeking to skirt the Court’s decision—with the support of the Biden administration.
Recently, for example, Columbia Law School faced criticism after announcing they would require applicants to submit a video as part of their application. Skeptics asked if school officials were merely trying to confirm each applicant’s race with such a requirement (school leaders rescinded the requirement shortly after it was posted).
State lawmakers should seize the moment. Policymakers should prohibit administrators from requiring loyalty oaths or other diversity statements as a condition of applying for university positions. College officials should not be allowed to use taxpayer resources to pay for so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices or positions in those departments. Administrators should make their admissions processes transparent and disclose the ways in which they evaluate student transcripts and essays.
Colleges should make their admissions processes transparent and disclose how they evaluate student transcripts and essays.Morehouse College’s Walter M. Kimbrough told the audience at the Education Department event that if you oppose DEI programs, “you don’t like black stuff.” In fact, DEI trainings are notoriously ineffective at changing individual attitudes and behavior. The near-ubiquity of DEI offices on U.S. campuses has not improved the ways in which students and faculty discuss controversial topics: Surveys still find that many university students are afraid to speak freely.
Even those who work in DEI offices are now challenging the very orthodoxy they once supported. In one instance, a former DEI director on a college campus filed a lawsuit claiming harassment after she disagreed with the ideas and beliefs about “anti-racism” forced on her by her colleagues. State and federal lawmakers should use the Supreme Court’s ruling in the SFFA cases and the Civil Rights Act to deem these offices discriminatory and cut off public funding.
Finally, federal lawmakers have an opportunity to use the new opinion to overhaul the college accreditation system. Accreditors use college officials to carry out their work, and they often maintain the same DEI statements and commitments to woke ideology as the schools they accredit. Institutions should have more freedom to choose accreditors that match a school’s mission, and accreditors should not have to receive federal approval before operating.
Some may worry that, were this change to occur, non-academic entities such as businesses and non-profit organizations would be allowed to accredit schools, but this would be a feature, not a bug, of the new policy. The existing system has stifled creativity and promulgated progressive ideas at the expense of processes that would encourage the pursuit of truth.
Those looking for an explanation of how the Supreme Court’s ruling will change higher education will need to look beyond the U.S. Department of Education’s reflexive defense of what has finally been declared an unconstitutional practice—racial preferences.
Let’s hope the Court’s opinion supporting civil rights will end the prejudicial practices at universities across the country. Changes in favor of meritocracy and colorblindness are long overdue. College and university officials will find that their institutions improve if they take the Court’s reasoning to heart and ignore the Biden administration’s sniping.
Jonathan Butcher is the Will Skillman Senior Research Fellow in Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation and the author of Splintered: Critical Race Theory and the Progressive War on Truth.