In oral arguments in October, the Supreme Court gave colleges every indication that their admission policies are about to change. Republican-appointed justices, who hold the majority, indicated skepticism about what opponents call race-conscious admissions practices. "I've heard the word diversity quite a few times, and I don't have a clue what it means," said Justice Clarence Thomas, per the New York Times. Justice Samuel Alito contested whether there's any meaning to "underrepresented minority." Although schools don't know quite what to expect, if the court decides against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, eliminating or reducing affirmative action considerations in admissions policies, the effects could be sweeping.
"Most people are thinking about the admissions process at selective institutions," said Vern Granger, director of admissions at the University of Connecticut, "but I would say that this decision is going to be far-ranging and it's going to be expansive." The ruling, expected by June, could threaten strategies schools have long used to put together a diverse student population, some of which involve reaching out to particular ethnic or racial groups about scholarships and honors programs, the Times reports. Programs that benefit the affluent could end, too, including showing preference for the children of alumni. Some schools also are facing calls to end early decision admittance. Standardized tests—the SAT and ACT—already have been optional for many schools. High schools may have to advise college-bound students differently.
The changes will be reflected in the freshman class admitted in fall 2024, educators said. In the past, state prohibitions on using affirmative action in Michigan and California were followed by a decrease in applications; Granger said students from some groups might just drop the idea. And the changes won't be quickly reversable, experts said. "We will see a decline in students of color attending college before we see an increase again," said Angel B. Pérez of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "We will be missing an entire generation." (Read more college admissions stories.)