MIAMI, Fla. – Black and Hispanic college students across the United States could be impacted by two cases being decided by the United States Supreme Court that could end afﬁrmative action programs that consider race in college admissions.
Ahead of the decisions, Miami Congresswoman Fredricka Wilson, a Democrat, is among 17 lawmakers urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address the racial and ethnic gaps in higher education between African American and Hispanic students and their white counterparts.
The cases could make it difﬁcult for minority students to enroll in universities and colleges to further their education.
Wilson was elected a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development in January and focused on the college disparity that already puts minority students at a disadvantage for college admissions.
"The need for transparency and accountability in the college admissions process will only increase in the wake of the Supreme
Court’s widely expected ruling to invalidate the practice of race-conscious admissions," she said.
Wilson along with Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman joined forces with 15 of their colleagues to urge the ED to bridge the racial and ethnic gaps in higher education access and attainment by expanding college admissions data.
In order for policymakers and other stakeholders to adequately understand and address these gaps, more data is needed, they said.
“Despite a shrinking difference in racial and ethnic gaps of high school diploma attainment, there remains a signiﬁcant and worrisome gap between Black, Hispanic, and Native American adults and white adults in the attainment of bachelor’s degrees,” wrote the lawmakers in a letter to the ED.
“We are deeply concerned with the persistent racial inequities in access to postsecondary education and in the attainment of bachelor’s degrees; to adequately address the issue, researchers, leaders, and policymakers require more information. As such, we urge ED to use its authority to expand its collection and dissemination of admissions data while also disaggregating that data by race, ethnicity and gender.”
The chorus of concerns from lawmakers comes ahead of two afﬁrmative action cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
According to the Congressional Research Service, On Oct. 31, 2022, the Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases addressing admissions in higher education: Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina.
In each case the lower courts concluded that the universities made permissible, limited use of race to promote student body diversity, in line with Supreme Court precedent holding that institutions of higher education could, in some circumstances, consider race in admissions without running afoul of the Constitution’s equal protection principles.
The same petitioner asked the court in each of the cases to revisit and expressly overrule those previous holdings.
In the alternative, the petitioner asked the court to hold that the universities violated the constitutional rules established in existing precedent by allegedly overemphasizing race, disadvantaged Asian-American applicants, and rejecting viable race-neutral admissions procedures.
“LAWMAKERS ARE PREPARING FOR A DECISION THAT COULD PUT MINORITY STUDENTS’ COLLEGE EDUCATION IN PERIL.”
The federal lawmakers are preparing for a decision that could put minority students’ college education in peril.
To address the current racial and ethnic gulf in higher education, the lawmakers urged the U.S. Department of Education to commence collecting data on legacy preferences, early decision or early action admissions, which had an adverse impact on diversity and equity at colleges and universities that employ the admission options.
The lawmakers also are asking the department to collect disaggregated data for applicants or admitted applicants based on race or ethnicity, further complicating the effort to address longstanding inequities in higher education.
“The need for transparency in college admissions may become even more important should the Supreme Court end the consideration of race-conscious admissions policies later this year," the lawmakers’ letter said to the department.
"Race-conscious admissions policies are a critical tool for advancing racial equity, diversity, and access in higher education.
“After the elimination of such practices in both California and Texas, admissions rates for Black and Hispanic students dropped precipitously, leading to long-term, negative effects on the income and social mobility of Black and Hispanic communities, many of whom were denied access to the personal, professional, and socioeconomic growth so often facilitated by higher education.”
The letter also asks that the last two questions account for the number of applications, admits, and enrollments that are impacted by those categories to be disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Merkley and Bowman are the authors of the Fair College Admissions for Students Act, which would end the practice of colleges and universities giving legacy admissions preferences to the children of alumni and donors.
Joining them and Wilson in the letter to the department are Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Cory Booker (D-NJ); as well as Reps. Jill Tokuda (D-HI-02), André Carson (D-IN07), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX-30), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-07), Shontel Brown (DOH-11), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Bennie Thompson (D-MS-02), Alma Adams (D-NC-12), Troy Carter (D-LA-02), Joyce Beatty (D-OH-03), Greg Casar (DTX-35), and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO05).
The American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU said race-conscious admissions policies help create a diverse student body, promote integration on college campuses, and create an inclusive educational environment that beneﬁts all students.
Students from diverse backgrounds who learn from each other and are exposed to a variety of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and talents are better prepared to be successful in our society.
"Banning any consideration of race would hamper the growth of generations of students who will be unprepared for an increasingly diverse nation," the ACLU said in a statement.