The College Diversity Hub

Everything you need to know about the future of race-based equity and diversity in the world of higher education

When it comes to racial diversity in college admissions, we've got our finger on the pulse.

Below, we track how institutions of higher education are incorporating diversity and equity into their admissions process — in real time.

With the discontinuation of affirmative action, many college-bound students are wondering: what does this mean for my college application process? How much of my racial or cultural identity should I be sharing with colleges? How will colleges continue building racially diverse classes? And what’s going to happen to legacies?!

Our college admissions experts are hard at work following higher ed coverage and conversations. Topics of racial diversity in college admissions can be hairy, rooted as they are in complex histories of racial exclusion; let this Hub be your compass as you navigate the college application process. We’ll assess the ever-shifting trends in how colleges are choosing to evaluate and prioritize diversity, offering you the insights you need to seize every opportunity to shine.

A brief history of the recent affirmative action decision

A video introducing the lawsuits (made for high schoolers!)

In this 12-minute video created for high school viewers, you’ll meet Edward Blum (the lawyer who led the case against affirmative action) and Michael Blum (the student who Blum reached out to to begin the lawsuit). You’ll also hear Blum’s key argument: “You cannot remedy past discrimination with new discrimination.”

If you want to read more about Michael Wang and how he feels now, check out this article.

A podcast episode on affirmative action

From the good folks at The Daily, this episode gives great historical context for the policy

An introduction to the Harvard and UNC lawsuits

This article offers an excellent overview of the cases, although it is worth noting that the piece claims that all states that eliminated affirmative experienced a drop in minority enrollment, which Oklahoma disputes.

Some additional context on Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA)

Check out the website of the organization that brought this lawsuit, along with an interview with Edward Blum, their lawyer.

Notable responses to the overturn of affirmative action

Harvard University

In a letter posted the day that affirmative action was overturned, Harvard’s president reaffirmed Harvard’s commitment to maintaining and growing a diverse campus community, saying, “Harvard must always be a place of opportunity, a place whose doors remain open to those to whom they had long been closed, a place where many will have the chance to live dreams their parents or grandparents could not have dreamed.”


Read the full response here.


The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), a leading force in the test-optional admissions movement, responded to the overturn of affirmative action by stressing that: “Because they are among the most ‘race conscious’ of all factors and there is no compelling interest for universities to rely upon them for admissions decisions, standardized exam results should not be used to determine access to higher education. Test scores do not measure ‘merit.’”


Read the full response here.

Dartmouth University

Dartmouth’s President wrote a strong response letter that stated, “This decision in no way changes Dartmouth’s fundamental commitment to building a diverse and welcoming community of faculty, students, and staff, as articulated in our institutional values.”


Read the full response here.

Princeton University

In this letter, Princeton University’s president described the overturn of affirmative action as SCOTUS backing away from “more than fifty years of established case law,” called the decision “unwelcome and disappointing,” and affirmed that Princeton would continue to wholeheartedly pursue diversity, characterizing diversity as “essential to the excellence of this University and to the future of our country and the world.”


Read the full response here.

Yale University

Writing to the Yale community, Yale’s president said he was “deeply troubled” by SCOTUS’s ruling and reassured the community of the college’s “unwavering commitment to creating and sustaining a diverse and inclusive community.”


Read the full response here.

Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority

What does the end of affirmative action mean for college demographics?

To predict what may happen in terms of enrollment, we can look at states that have already eliminated affirmative action at state universities.

Prior to this SCOTUS decision, affirmative action was already banned in public university admissions processes in nine states. It is important to note that the examples have cited are all very large public institutions that, while holistic (with the exception, perhaps, of Oklahoma), still have to rely more heavily on numbers-based evaluation due to application volume. Smaller colleges with more holistic admissions processes may not experience the same subsequent drops in Black and Latinx enrollment that larger institutions likely will. The admissions folks at one selective college in NYC told us when we met with them that they were feeling pretty confident that they’d find ways around the elimination of affirmative action and still be able to build the kinds of diverse classes that they want.

Impact of Affirmative Action Ban in California

California eliminated affirmative action in 1996 with Prop 209.


Result: Within two years, Black and Latinx student enrollment decreased by 50% at most selective campuses (UCLA and Berkeley); California still argues that representation of underrepresented groups on the most selective campuses has not recovered.


For more information, you can read this analysis of the amicus briefs Michigan and California submitted to the Court.

Impact of Affirmative Action Ban in Michigan

Michigan eliminated affirmative action in 2006, choosing instead to focus on low-income recruitment.


Result: Black enrollment at U-M Ann Arbor, the state flagship, has dropped and still has not recovered to 2006 levels (half as much as in 2006—4% vs. 8% of student body). There have also been increases in Black and Latinx enrollment at less selective state schools, which has created a feedback loop — students tend to apply where they feel safe and where their peers apply, which can have long-term effects with marginalized students matriculating to schools with lower graduation rates.


For more information, you can read this analysis of the amicus briefs Michigan and California submitted to the Court.

Impact of Affirmative Action Ban in Oklahoma

Oklahoma eliminated affirmative action in 2012.


Result: Oklahoma has reported little statistical difference in class makeup since the change.

How will colleges continue building racially diverse classes?

For colleges who still seek to build racially diverse on-campus communities, what are the alternatives to affirmative action?

Ultimately, how individual colleges manage this change will depend on their institutional priorities as well as the type of institution (i.e. public or private).

Guaranteed admission by high school

Some point to UT Austin’s admissions process, which provides guaranteed admission to the top 7% of graduating high schoolers from every high school in the state. The guaranteed geographic diversity ensures that students from lower-income communities are still admitted, and has led to an increase in racial diversity on campus. This follows a state institutional model—it is likely not replicable for private colleges, which have a different mission and are not designed to serve in-state students.

Socioeconomic status

A very common argument is that admissions offices could use income instead and achieve similar results. Evidence for this is mixed at best; both California and Michigan report that this did not work in their states. Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce released a report that concluded that “selective colleges barred from considering race and ethnicity in their admissions decisions may be able to partially claw back some racial/ethnic diversity using class-conscious admissions practices, but they will be extremely unlikely to enroll student bodies that come close to mirroring the demographic diversity of the high school class.” (This report is worth reading in full to see some different modeling of admissions practices!)

The Legacy Admissions Tracker

In the post-race-conscious admissions landscape, one of the hottest topics is legacy admissions. Here, we track how colleges are considering legacy in the admissions process.

Many argue that legacy admissions unfairly benefit affluent students, which, in turn, can thwart efforts to build diverse campuses. Others argue that to pull legacy admissions practices just when legacy pools start to become more diverse is counterproductive — and that colleges need legacy preference to maintain connections to (and donations from) alumni. Colleges across the country are reckoning with this very question right now.

The Legacy Admissions Tracker

Our Analysis of the 2023-2024 Supplemental Essay Prompts

Here's what this year's supplemental essays reveal about how colleges are continuing to incorporate diversity into admissions.

Thanks to the perceived essay loophole Chief Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court decision language created—establishing that students can write about racial identity when tied to other experiences and characteristics—there has been much speculation that colleges would scramble to add diversity-related questions to their applications. Now that the Common App has reset for 2023-24, we can see colleges’ new supplemental questions. Did this bear out? So far, we’d say: yes. Yes it did.

Learn about this year's supplemental essay prompts
Because they are among the most 'race conscious' of all factors and there is no compelling interest for universities to rely upon them for admissions decisions, standardized exam results should not be used to determine access to higher education. Test scores do not measure ‘merit.' Harry Feder, Executive Director of FairTest

Changes to look for in the future

  • Legacy admissions

    The optics of maintaining preferences for legacy applicants, which, while diversifying, have historically been largely white, will likely be harmful to colleges in the wake of affirmative action's elimination.

  • Athletic preferences

    Recruited athletes already receive the biggest preference of any applicant group. Recruited athletes are also largely white. More schools may follow the model of Stanford (though they have since reversed course on this) and other highly selective institutions and eliminate teams that are not moneymakers for the schools (squash, sailing, fencing), which also tend to be those most populated by white students.

  • Essay prompts

    There has been a growing trend among selective admissions offices to ask students to reflect on their identities and/or on how they would value and contribute to diversity on a college campus. Will colleges feel these questions open them to litigation? Or will they ask even more questions like this to try to understand who is in their class?

  • Applications

    The Common App has already announced that it will edit the application such that colleges can opt out of seeing the “race box.”

  • Test-optional policies

    Schools that were considering returning to testing may choose to remain test-optional in order to avoid adding an additional perceived barrier of entry. Also, given that the Court has called for an elimination of race-conscious factors, and given that performance on standardized tests like the ACT & SAT are closely tied with race, admissions officers may be discouraged from considering test scores in the admissions process.

Looking for more concrete advice on how these trends in higher education apply to your college application?

Our college admissions team is here to answer your questions and help you craft the best strategy. Contact us to set up a free consultation.

Contact Us