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The Broader Impact to Society of the Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action

As you may know, the Supreme Court recently ruled affirmative action with respect to college admissions unconstitutional. But what you might not realize is that this ruling could have a ripple effect into other aspects of society, especially corporate America. 

Read on to learn more about affirmative action, the history of affirmative action in college admissions, and how the June Supreme Court decision can and will affect both higher education and the corporate workplace.

What Is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action refers to practices or policies that aim to increase opportunities for disadvantaged or underrepresented individuals in the workplace and educational institutions. In the context of college admissions, these policies were designed to diversify campuses by bringing in more students from minority groups.

At many schools, affirmative action admissions policies were part of a holistic approach to the admissions process. The school would review every part of each student’s application, including extracurricular activities, essays, test scores, and recommendation letters, with race being only one of the multitude of factors under consideration.

Affirmative action policies began in the 1960s as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling in June, several states had already banned race-conscious admissions policies, including California (1996), Florida (1999), Michigan (2006), Nebraska (2008), Arizona (2010), New Hampshire (2011), Oklahoma (2012), and Idaho (2020). Both Texas and Washington banned affirmative action in 1996 and 1998 respectively but would later reverse the decisions.

The goal of affirmative action admissions policies is to create a better learning environment and educational experience for all students. The idea is that students of all races will receive a more rounded education when exposed to a larger variety of different viewpoints.

A Brief History of Affirmative Action Rulings

In 1978, the first case surrounding affirmative action policies in higher education was brought before the Supreme Court. In the case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, a white man named Allan Bakke claimed that the University of California Medical School at Davis had unfairly rejected his application for admission twice in favor of meeting a racial quota, thus barring him from acceptance solely based on race. 

At the time, the school reserved 16 spots in the program for minority students. Bakke’s GPA and test scores were higher than those of the minority students who were accepted during the years he was rejected. The case raised the question of whether or not the University of California violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by practicing these admissions policies.

The court ruled in favor of Bakke, stating that the use of racial quotas in admissions policies violated the Equal Protection Clause. However, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. and four other justices upheld that race could be used as a factor for college admissions decisions as long as it was only one out of various factors involved in reaching a decision. 

Under this ruling, affirmative action was constitutional. The Supreme Court continued to uphold this central finding throughout various cases for nearly four decades afterward.

This brings us to the June 2023 Supreme Court decision. The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), headed by Edward Blum, brought two cases before the court, one against Harvard University and the other against the University of North Carolina. The Harvard case asserted that the school had unlawfully discriminated against Asian American applicants while the UNC case asserted the same claim for both Asian American and white applicants.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court decided to ban the use of affirmative action policies for college admissions decisions in the United States.

The Impact of the June Ruling on College Admissions

Many universities have expressed concern that the Supreme Court’s ruling could drastically decrease the effectiveness of diversity efforts on college campuses. 

Leaders of schools in states where affirmative action was banned in the 1990s noticed a decrease in minority enrollment following the ban and subsequently decided to create additional programs designed to encourage enrollment and acceptance of minority students. However, a study performed in 2020 found that, despite these extra efforts, schools continued to experience persistent declines in the admittance of underrepresented minorities. 

These results indicate that such efforts cannot achieve the same level of effective diversification that affirmative action admissions policies could.

Still, we will likely see an increase in other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) efforts at many universities in response to the affirmative action ban. For example, some schools may broaden their outreach to communities of color, offer more need-based grants, create programs or scholarships to encourage minority enrollment, or make a move toward test-optional policies.

It’s worth noting that the court’s decision did leave some room for racial considerations in college admissions decisions. The ruling stated that minority applicants could reference how race has affected their lives or challenged their opportunities in their college essays. Subsequently, colleges may consider a student’s experiences of discrimination as part of the review of their application as long as these considerations are not based solely on race and instead evaluate how those experiences affected the student’s individual character.

The Broader Impact of the June Ruling on Corporate America

The effects of this ruling will ripple out past the confines of higher education. Over the next few years, we are most likely going to start seeing similar lawsuits to those brought against Harvard and UNC spring up in corporate America. Caucasians and Asian Americans may assert that they were not promoted to higher positions in their companies because of their race despite having the right merit based requirements to fulfill the role.

Though the ruling does not currently have any direct legal effect on workplace laws, it could open the door for such disputes to occur in the future. As a result, we may see a decrease in organizations’ abilities to prioritize DE&I policies when hiring or promoting employees.

With the end of affirmative action in admissions and some colleges once again requiring test scores in appliations as a result of AI technology, ACT and SAT preparation has become more important than ever. For more information about how to achieve the test scores you need to get into your dream schools, check out our blog.

Prep Expert

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