Then and Now: Higher Education Admissions for People of Color
By: Shannon Reinard Demko
Shannon is the Senior Director of MBA Prep and School Partnerships at Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). Previously, she served as Director of Admissions at American University’s Kogod School of Business, and before that, as Associate Director of Admissions for the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Her professional background also includes work in corporate programs for the American Council on Education and in undergraduate admissions at Georgetown.
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling in June 2023 that prohibited the practice of “race-conscious” admissions did not come as a surprise to many higher education professionals. Below the federal level, several states such as Florida and Texas were already in the midst of legally challenging DEI practices on the campuses of their state institutions. Therefore, conversations about the possible outcomes of the impending SCOTUS ruling had been underway at many institutions for months prior, if not longer, by the time it was released.
Nevertheless, levels of preparation to take action on necessary post-ruling changes were arguably less robust. Admissions offices were left with very little time to implement changes before applications opened, including the finalization of online application platforms and internal protocol for handling applicant data and materials.
The result was, for many schools, a stressful and confusing time of interpretation, evaluation, and rapid process redesign. In fact, a recent survey of 136 college presidents indicated that only 18% of those who responded believed that higher education as a whole was sufficiently prepared for the June decision when it was delivered. While preparation levels at institutions may have varied, most administrations have moved as quickly as possible to comply with the ruling in their admissions processes. Through our partnerships with 35 leading business schools, MLT has observed an array of interpretations and adjustments across colleges and universities following the June ruling.
Through engagement with these schools and our own independent research, we have collected some key points that may be helpful for institutions still determining how to respond to the ruling.
Best practices from leading business schools
As higher education institutions determine whether to make changes to either information that they gather on an application or information that an application reader can access, there are several key areas that have not been impacted by the ruling:
- Recruiting initiatives/prospective applicant outreach
- Early pipeline-building programs
- Gathering applicant demographic data
- Post-admissions decision recruiting/matriculation efforts
Of notable significance is the ruling’s specific prohibition of the use of race as a determining factor in university admissions decisions. However, in the Court’s decision, Chief Justice Roberts noted that universities may consider in an applicant’s essay how race “has affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.” Therefore, when reviewing an application, schools should clearly articulate in their decision-making process how such experiences may reveal qualities like resilience or courage, which can then be directly mapped to success as a student at their school.
As higher education institutions navigate their first application cycle since the June ruling, some best practices we’ve seen many schools adopt include:
- Strategic partnerships with organizations (such as MLT) that can provide support in recruiting diverse applicants to apply
- Continued diversity recruitment, with events open to any prospective applicant who wishes to attend
- Ensure application questions enable applicants to convey their lived experiences
- Formally train application readers to assess how candidates’ lived experience, as expressed in their application, may directly indicate potential for academic success, and enhance the overall learning environment for all students
- Designate identity-specific scholarships to candidates once they’ve been added a general pool of qualified, admitted potential recipients
Thus far, MLT has observed that our partner schools have retained their efforts to establish a multi-dimensional, diverse applicant pool through their recruiting events and initiatives. While schools may have made adjustments to the use of racial demographic data in the admissions review process, they are permitted to gather that data for post-decision use in effectively ensuring classroom experiences that include a diversity of perspectives, identities, and aspirations. Research has repeatedly shown that diverse environments enhance learning, furthering the purpose of higher education overall. It is increasingly apparent that many colleges and universities remain committed to upholding diversity in the classroom.
Historically, higher education has long been a space dedicated to the elevation of thought and expansion of discourse on topics that drive societies forward. Diversity of ideas and perspectives in these spaces is critical to maximizing their ability to shape leaders on a global scale. In order to ensure that campuses reflect the reality of the communities their graduates will one day lead, admissions offices must fully commit to recruiting diverse candidates into their applicant pools, and be willing to share learnings and strategies for doing so with each other as a common professional practice. Initiatives such as these are fueled by our collective recognition that without diversity, there is no progress, and without progress, we run the risk that our future will simply move us back into the past.
Connect with the MBA Prep team at MLT. Our team has extensive experience in navigating the evolving landscape of higher education admissions, including the recent Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious admissions. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.