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Statement from the Institute for Educational Leadership on Supreme Court’s Decision to Strike Down Affirmative Action in College Admissions

IEL statement

Statement from the Institute for Educational Leadership on Supreme Court’s Decision to Strike Down Affirmative Action in College Admissions

June 29, 2023

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) is deeply concerned about the recent decision by the Supreme Court to strike down affirmative action in college admissions. This ruling undermines decades of progress in promoting equal educational opportunities and will undoubtedly exacerbate the existing disparities faced by Black learners and other historically disenfranchised minority students.

Affirmative action has played a crucial role in addressing historical injustices and promoting diversity within educational institutions. By considering race as one factor among many in the admissions process, it has helped to level the playing field and provide opportunities for underrepresented communities. However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and University of North Carolina threatens to hinder these efforts and perpetuate systemic disadvantages faced by Black and other historically disenfranchised minority students in particular. By overturning rulings dating back to 1978, which held that universities could consider race as an additional factor when making admissions decisions for already well-qualified applicants, the Court’s 6-3 opinion sends a message that students from historically disenfranchised backgrounds will have to work even harder to begin to gain access to educational opportunities.  

Data consistently shows that Black learners face significant barriers in accessing quality education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black students are disproportionately affected by resource disparities, lower graduation rates, and limited access to advanced courses. They are more likely to attend under-resourced schools, which lack adequate funding, qualified teachers, and essential educational resources. Removing affirmative action will further compound these challenges, limiting their access to higher education and perpetuating the cycle of inequality.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “after California’s Proposition 209 eliminated race-based affirmative action in the state’s public colleges in 1998, enrollment of students of color plummeted, especially at the system’s most selective institutions.” The University of California system, the respondent in the landmark Affirmative Action case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), “has spent more than a half-billion dollars on recruitment programs to stop the decline, but student diversity has continued to lag.”

Affirmative action recognizes that diversity within educational settings is not only beneficial for individual students but also essential for fostering inclusive and vibrant learning environments. Exposure to diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds enhances critical thinking, cultural competence, and the ability to thrive in an increasingly globalized society. By eliminating affirmative action, we risk diminishing the rich diversity that has been instrumental in shaping the educational experiences of all students.

“While the Supreme Court’s decision acknowledges the importance of equal protection under the law, we must also recognize that equal opportunity cannot be achieved in a vacuum,” said IEL President Eddie Koen. “The legacy of systemic racism continues to cast a long shadow on our educational system, and affirmative action has been an essential tool in dismantling those barriers. Removing this tool without implementing comprehensive alternatives will only perpetuate the inequities that exist.”

IEL calls upon policymakers, educational institutions, and advocates to redouble their efforts in promoting equity and diversity within education. We urge the development and implementation of holistic admissions practices that consider the full range of students’ backgrounds, experiences, and achievements. This includes strengthening K-12 education, increasing access to quality early childhood education, expanding college readiness and affordability programs, and addressing the root causes of educational disparities.

We firmly believe that every learner, regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical and mental abilities, or socioeconomic background, deserves a fair chance to pursue higher education and achieve their full potential. IEL remains committed to working towards a more equitable and inclusive educational system for all students.