Over the summer the Supreme Court of the United States handed down one of the most impactful higher education rulings in decades.
SCOTUS held that Harvard and the University of North Carolina violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by considering race in their undergraduate admissions processes. The lawsuits against Harvard and UNC were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, which is why collectively these cases are known as “SFFA.”
So what does this mean for colleges and universities across the country? The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice endeavored to clear the air in a “Dear Colleague” Letter and a Question and Answer document.
In these communications the agencies make clear that SFFA addressed only admissions programs but are curiously silent as to whether race can be considered in awarding scholarships.
They are clear on the fact that colleges can consider a student’s background, including experiences linked to race, that have shaped their lives.
Other permissible activities include:
- Conducting targeted outreach, recruiting, and pathway programs, so long as they don’t focus on race or ethnicity. For example, you may have seen the University of South Carolina announced it will accept the top 10 percent of all students at S.C. high schools.
- Operating diversity offices, campus cultural centers, and other campus support services that are available to all students are still allowed.
- Offering support clubs or activities – including those with a race-related theme – so long as they are open to all students regardless of race.
- Collecting demographic data about students as long as they don’t use it to influence admissions decisions.