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College Access: position statement on SCOTUS decision

by Dr. Chaka Felder-McEntire

On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College that race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court held that these universities' use of race in their admissions processes lacked sufficiently measurable objectives and clear durational endpoints, making them unlawful under the strict scrutiny standard.

The Supreme Court decision on affirmative action has implications for college access by potentially altering the criteria and processes used in college admissions. Some say that the policies of Affirmative Action holds the keys to success in higher education, employment and buisniness Ultimately, affirmative action is about fairness. This decision might influence how institutions consider race as a factor in admissions, potentially impacting the diversity of student populations at colleges and universities.

Let’s about why was race even a factor in college admissions and why?

Race has been a factor in college admissions historically to promote diversity and address past inequalities. Colleges consider race as part of a holistic approach to create diverse student bodies, aiming to provide educational benefits through diverse perspectives and experiences. This approach seeks to remedy historical discrimination and foster a more inclusive learning environment.

Why does it even matter?

Diversity in college settings matters because it enriches the learning experience. Exposure to diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures fosters critical thinking, empathy, and a broader understanding of the world. It prepares students for a globalized society and enhances problem-solving by drawing from a wider range of viewpoints and experiences. Additionally, it helps counteract systemic inequalities by providing equal educational opportunities to students from various backgrounds.

Shouldn’t I be admitted to a college based on my grades and my leadership rather than my race?

Absolutely, academic merit and leadership qualities are crucial factors in college admissions. The aim of considering race as a factor is not to overshadow these achievements but to ensure a diverse and inclusive student body. Colleges often adopt a holistic approach, considering various aspects beyond grades and leadership, aiming to create well-rounded communities that reflect society's diversity.

What does this mean for college access organizations like Higher Heights?

For organizations like Higher Heights, the implications of decisions regarding affirmative action can significantly impact their efforts. Changes in policies or legal decisions around affirmative action might influence the strategies these organizations employ to support underrepresented students in gaining access to higher education. It could necessitate adapting programs to address potential shifts in admissions criteria or to ensure continued support for students affected by these changes.

Organizations like Higher Heights might need to modify their college access advising and programs to emphasize different aspects of the application process if admissions criteria change. They may focus more on bolstering academic achievements or leadership skills, while still ensuring they equip students to navigate any alterations in the admissions landscape. Additionally, they might intensify advocacy efforts to ensure equitable access to education despite potential policy changes.

The stance taken by Higher Heights in not adopting the rhetoric that minority students should avoid taking the SAT is quite strategic and pertinent. With the shift to SAT optional policies during COVID and its continuation by many colleges, there's a misconception among some minority students that they can forego taking the SAT. However, despite being optional for admissions, many institutions still use SAT scores to determine academic scholarships, which can significantly impact a student's financial aid package.

Given this scenario, it becomes even more critical for organizations like Higher Heights to continue advocating for and supporting students in taking the SAT. By doing so, they ensure that these students have equitable access to both admissions and financial aid opportunities, leveling the playing field and increasing their chances of securing scholarships based not just on high school grades but also on competitive SAT scores. This approach empowers students to maximize their opportunities for higher education and future success.

However, within our own organization, since COVID we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of college applications submitted by students to colleges that are test optional.

Furthermore, Higher Heights remains resolute in not discouraging our students from sharing their ethnicity in fear of discrimination in the admissions process. Upholding this stance emphasizes our commitment to supporting students in embracing their identities and advocating against any discriminatory practices in college admissions.

Absolutely, the SCOTUS decision does indeed have implications for university admissions processes, but it also serves as an opportunity for college access organizations like Higher Heights. We primarily serve students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or with limited resources for higher education, can seize this moment to emphasize the importance of a robust academic background. By doing so, we help students overcome the additional challenge posed by potential barriers to college access, ensuring they are well-prepared academically to navigate any changes in admissions criteria and secure their spots in higher education institutions.


Dr. Chaka Felder-McEntire is the founder and Executive Director of Higher Heights Youth Empowerment Programs, a Connecticut college access organization founded in 2003. Dr. Chaka has a doctorate in Educational Leadership, consultant and leader in college access and career readiness. 

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