Biden administration advises colleges on how race of students can be considered in admissions

Biden administration advises colleges on how race of students can be considered in admissions

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Washington — After the Supreme Court’s decision in June banning affirmative action admission policies that use race as a determining factor in college admissions, the Biden administration on Monday unveiled new legal resources for colleges and universities it says will clarify how a prospective student’s race and ethnicity can be considered in admissions.

“Nothing in the court’s decisions denied the value of diversity in education,” Education Department Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “Institutions can continue — or start — to do targeted outreach and recruitment in underserved communities, collect and consider demographic data, and run programs to consider the retention and success of students of diverse backgrounds.”

Addressing the “topline issue” of considering race in admissions, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, “Colleges and universities can and should continue to ensure that their doors are open to those students of all backgrounds, including students of color, who possess the characteristics necessary to succeed and contribute on college campuses.” 

Described by officials from the Departments of Education and Justice as a guide to the current legal framework of the use of racial diversity university admissions, the resources released Monday clarify and expand upon the Biden administration’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s decision. 

“Institutions of higher education remain free to consider any quality or characteristic of a student that bears on the institution’s admission decision, such as courage, motivation, or determination, even if the student’s application ties that characteristic to their lived experience with race,” according to a set of questions the administration answered in the new resources. 

Despite the high court’s ruling, officials said Monday institutions of higher education may continue to collect data on the race of applicants, but are barred from using that data in admission decisions or in violation of privacy laws. 

Several competitive universities have already begun making changes to their applications to enable prospective students to incorporate more of their personal history. The University of Virginia announced in August that admissions officers will not “have access to any self-disclosed ‘checkbox’ information regarding the race or ethnicity of the candidates they are considering,” according to a statement by university president Jim Ryan and provost Ian Baucom.

However, Ryan and Baucom went on to say that “as it is legal for us to consider individual qualities that will contribute to the University, we will include an essay prompt on our Common Application for undergraduates and other relevant application forms that provides an opportunity for students to describe their experiences, including but not limited to their experiences of race or ethnicity, and the ways in which those experiences have shaped their abilities to contribute.” They added, “To the extent a candidate’s race or ethnicity is disclosed through this process, that information only will be considered as it relates to that person’s unique ability as an individual to contribute to the University, and not on the basis of race or ethnicity alone.”

The Education Department’s guidance Monday also encouraged colleges and universities to increase “access for underserved populations” and specifically noted that these universities could re-examine whether policies for legacy admissions — for instance, when a student’s parent attended the school — or admitting the children of donors, “run[s] counter to efforts to promote equal opportunities for all students.”

The Supreme Court’s decision did not address race-based admissions in military academies or scholarship opportunities, and Biden administration officials said Monday they’re continuing to work with institutions to address the matter.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Cardona also previewed what he said would be a more comprehensive report on the ways in which the administration says colleges and universities can achieve more diverse pools of applicants. 

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