'Unfortunate' but not 'a complete surprise:' College officials react to SCOTUS ruling

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Thursday, June 29, 2023
'The decision is unfortunate:' Local officials react to SCOTUS ruling
"The decision is unfortunate, but it's not a complete surprise," said Vice President of Enrollment Management at Arcadia University Rock Hall.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It's a decision that universities across the country had been watching closely: whether the Supreme Court would prevent colleges from considering race as a factor in admissions. That decision came down on Thursday, as the nation's highest court effectively ended Affirmative Action in the college application process.

"The decision is unfortunate, but it's not a complete surprise," said Vice President of Enrollment Management at Arcadia University Rock Hall. "We've been bracing for this. This conversation has been cyclical for 20, 30 years."

The court decided that colleges cannot use race as a factor in admissions in a vote that went along liberal and conservative lines. The case comes from a lawsuit that the conservative group Students for Fair Admissions brought against the University of North Carolina and Harvard University.

The Supreme Court's decision effectively ends Affirmative Action in college admissions, which evoked a strong response from President Biden as he spoke on the matter Thursday afternoon.

"I strongly, strongly disagree with the court's decision," he said from the White House.

Timothy Welbeck, Esq., who is an attorney and director of the Temple University Center for Anti-Racism says the Supreme Decision is not a surprise.

"Most legal scholars expected this outcome not because there were new legal arguments or even standing, but the composition of the court changed," he said.

The University of Pennsylvania released a statement in response to the decision. The school reinforced its commitment to diversity while acknowledging that the Supreme Court's decision could bring about changes in its admissions procedure.

"This decision will require changes in our admissions practices. But our values and beliefs will not change," read the statement.

Biden spoke of the decision while attempting to clear what he believes are misconceptions about Affirmative Action.

"Many people wrongly believe affirmative action allows unqualified students to be admitted ahead of qualified students," Biden said adding that race is only considered after a student has met all other criteria for grades, test scores and other requirements that individual colleges have.

Welbeck added that students of color aren't the sole beneficiaries of Affirmative Action.

"Affirmative action most notably benefited white women. They are the segment of the population that benefitted in the last five decades," he said. "White women made up only 3% of attorneys," he said of the time before Affirmative Action. "They now make up more than 40%."

The Supreme Court will still allow college applicants to discuss how race affects their lives in the essay portion of applications. It's something Arcadia has already been using as a way to diversify its student body.

"Qualitatively we'll have to fall back on rubrics that we've already developed: essay, letters of recommendation," said Hall.

He says there could be a day soon when a box asking about a student's race is no longer on the application.

"I believe as it plays out, the box will disappear,"

Looking at race has been a practice that some schools used to improve diversity. The 6ABC Data Team found that since the approval of Affirmative Action in 1978, the gap isn't nearly as wide when it comes to the percentage of White and Black students ages 18-24 who are enrolled in college. Information on Asian students ages 18-24 was not collected before 1981; however, that group had significantly higher percentages of students in college. Asian American students are among those in the group Students for Fair Admissions which filed the original lawsuits.

Experts like Welbeck say it remains to be seen just how much the Supreme Court's decision could impact college enrollment for students of color.

"We won't know the full impact for years to come until we see what these new classes will look like," said Welbeck.

President Biden has directed the education department to identify practices like legacy enrollment which critics say hinder diversity at colleges. Biden encourages schools to continue to seek out diversity by considering things like obstacles that applicants have overcome.