Five Ways to Foster DEIA in College Enrollment, Post-SCOTUS

January 22, 2024

n the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 2023 decision against affirmative action, we'll explore five innovative strategies for fostering Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in college enrollment, offering practical approaches to compliance with the law while achieving crucial diversity goals.

Growing and maintaining diversity within higher ed institutions is essential for preparing students to thrive in today’s professional environments and the global economy. When students from across different socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, gender, ability (and more) groups interact, they expand their worldviews, become more empathic and collaborative, and learn new ways to problem solve and innovate. And according to research by international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, diversity and inclusion in the workplace deliver better business outcomes, including higher-than-average profitability.

However, universities have had to adapt their recruitment processes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2023 decision that struck down using affirmative action in admissions decisions. The ruling emphasized the need for universities to find legal and ethical ways to foster diversity without relying on explicit racial considerations. “We know what has happened at colleges when individual states have banned affirmative action in the past,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on a press call shortly after the ruling. “Fewer students of color applied and fewer students of color were admitted. We cannot afford that kind of backsliding on a national scale – not when our nation is more diverse than ever, not when our world is more competitive than ever.”

In this post, we’ll outline five strategies that you can employ to ensure compliance with the law while still achieving your institution’s important diversity goals.

Holistic Admissions Process

Implement a holistic admissions process that considers a range of factors, such as socioeconomic background, life experiences, and achievements, to assess an applicant's potential contributions to the campus community. While the Supreme Court’s decision restricts approaches that colleges and universities have been using for decades, that doesn’t mean that schools can no longer consider the ways that a student’s background, including experiences linked to their race, have shaped their lives. In fact, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s stated in his majority opinion that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected their life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

In line with this statement, a university could therefore consider an applicant’s explanation about what it means to him to be a Guatemalan migrant worker and leading scorer on his rural high school’s soccer team, or an applicant’s account of overcoming microaggressions as the only African American student in the debate club. Considering experiences instead of race is one effective technique that allows universities to maintain a fair and equitable system while promoting inclusivity.

Class-Based Affirmative Action

Shift the focus from race-based affirmative action to class-based affirmative action. Considering socioeconomic status can effectively address the challenges faced by students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who may belong to various racial and ethnic groups. This approach, however, is both costly and complicated. In contemplating such an approach, HAI recommends modeling the potential cost and necessary increase in enrollments to support it. This study by the Brookings Institution provides a good overview of major considerations, as well as this companion piece by Inside Higher Ed.

Outreach and Partnerships

Establish partnerships with high schools and community organizations that serve underrepresented communities. And if you are a four-year college, work to create more (or stronger) relationships and MOUs with area community colleges. By actively reaching out to students in these areas, universities can create pathways for diverse talent, ensuring that the applicant pool reflects a broad range of backgrounds.

“[Transfer pathways] are a tool for our educational leaders to continue to use and to improve in order to get the diversity that we want to see on college and university campuses, because community colleges are the most diverse part of higher education in the country,” says Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation, a private grant foundation focused on postsecondary opportunities for underserved California students. “The more clear and transparent the pathways are … the better.”

Implicit Bias Training and Tools

Awareness and education about unconscious biases can help ensure fair evaluations of applicants and prevent unintentional discrimination. Just a few tactics that your institution can consider:

  • Conduct training sessions at the beginning of every term or semester to help admissions professionals identify implicit biases and work to eliminate the effects on their work. You can partner with your institution’s Human Resources or Bias Prevention offices to provide training tailored to the admissions function.
  • Identify tools and processes that can affect under-represented groups. It’s important to consider a range of measures when identifying candidates with a likelihood to thrive at your institution. Just keep in mind that while GPA and other cognitive scores can help predict future success to a degree, they can also disadvantage certain groups if assigned too much weight. For example, ETS, makers of the GRE, advocates for holistic reviews of applications and advises against the use of minimum scores. “GRE scores help you compare applicants, but if you use a cut score as a criterion, you could miss an applicant who would be a great asset to your program,” the company warns.
  • Use multiple readers in the review process. If feasible, work to ensure that each student is reviewed by more than one person in your office. Optimally, your reviewers will represent a range of diverse backgrounds themselves. The goal is to make admissions decisions based on collective feedback

Support Programs for Underrepresented Students

Develop and expand support programs for underrepresented students once admitted. This includes mentorship programs, academic resources, and a supportive campus environment that fosters a sense of belonging. And don’t forget about mental health supports and communications. It’s a fact that that disadvantaged students are more likely to be affected by poor mental health, so HAI recommends that you develop a plan for consistently sharing info and resources to support at-risk student groups.

What Can You Do Next?

While the Supreme Court ruling against using race in college admissions poses challenges, it has also prompted universities to explore alternative and effective strategies for achieving diversity and inclusion. By embracing holistic approaches, addressing socioeconomic disparities, fostering partnerships, tackling implicit biases, and implementing support programs, your institution can continue to create an environment that reflects the richness of the global society, preparing students for success in an interconnected world.

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