Yesterday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its long-standing view that colleges and universities may seek to foster diversity in higher education by considering race and ethnicity as one factor in a holistic admissions process.
Demos applauds this decision, and agrees that a diverse student body is of vital importance to the mission of higher education in America.
“America is the world's boldest experiment in a multi-racial democracy, and yet we are still working to fulfill the ideal of an equal say and an equal chance for all,” said Heather McGhee, president of Demos. “A crucial part of that unfinished work is ensuring that our institutions of higher education reflect America's great diversity. Yesterday’s decision preserves a critical tool in achieving that goal.”
All too often, our higher education system does little to address racial inequities that mark so many parts of American life. Black students are severely underrepresented in our most-selective colleges and universities, which leads to their underrepresentation in our politics, in corporate leadership, and in the legal profession. This is why, as the Supreme Court recognized yesterday, it is imperative that institutions be allowed to consider race as part of their efforts to ensure a diverse and dynamic student body.
In many respects, our higher education system is one of immensely entrenched privilege, one in which black students are far more likely to take on student debt than white students, and to take on more debt for the same degree at public colleges and universities. Despite being one of the few pathways left to the middle class, a college degree is too often out of reach for students of color. To produce an inclusive economy and an inclusive democracy, we must continue to provide the same affordable, high-quality pathways for students of color that white students have enjoyed for generations.
As we stated in an amicus brief urging the Court to uphold the constitutionality of Texas’ plan:
“Today’s college-age students are part of a generation for which the importance of diversity in higher education has never been greater. They are more diverse than the general population, more diverse than the same age group was even 10 years ago, and they will emerge into a workforce that is more diverse than any past generation’s. Yet, because of residential segregation, large numbers of America’s young people have been and will continue to be deprived of any opportunity for cross-racial interaction in schools at the elementary and secondary level. Institutions of higher education thus have a critical role to play in providing the opportunity for a diverse education that is necessary to college students’ future success in the workplace and as citizens and leaders.
Yesterday’s decision reminds us that decades of public policy have resulted in massive disparities in educational attainment, wealth, and job quality by race. It also reminds us of the need for smart, inclusive policies to reverse them. As the court recognized, a diverse student body not only “promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races,” but also prepares students “for an increasingly diverse workforce and society,” and helps cultivate future “leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.”
By ensuring that institutions of higher education have a continuing ability to promote diversity on campus, the Court is helping ensure that higher education remains a pathway to a diverse middle class.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s deadlock on DAPA and DACA clearly showed why we need a fully functional Court to address critical issues that have wide-ranging effects on our daily lives. The fight for dignity and security for immigrant families continues. This case sets no Supreme Court precedent and we look forward to a full Court deciding the issue once and for all. Unfortunately, this will take time, and in the meantime we urge compassion for the many families who will suffer needlessly, especially children who are U.S. citizens and must live in fear of having their families torn apart. Finally, we implore Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with the Constitution and move immediately to provide President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee with fair consideration. Senators need to do their jobs so we can have a fully functional Court address and resolve issues like DACA.