Local colleges maintain the status quo on affirmative action in admissions

Colleges are not planning any changes yet in light of the repeal of federal guidelines.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Although the Trump administration has rescinded Obama-era guidance about the consideration of race in college admissions, local colleges are not planning any changes yet in their admissions processes.

The guidance, as described by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was a series of documents that outlined acceptable use of affirmative action in higher education. The documents explained “the legal requirements for colleges and universities interested in the limited use of race in college admissions to promote diverse educational settings.”

When the guidance was rescinded, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement that “the Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are constitutional, and the court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue. Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”

However, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement this summer may have an impact on future decisions regarding affirmative action.

Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for students of lower socioeconomic status, expressed concern about the repeal of the federal guidance.

Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice at Education Trust, stated that it seemed to be “part of a greater strategy or a greater set of broader decisions that the administration has made to roll back protections for vulnerable student populations and … left this gaping hole for institutions to decide what will be challenged and what won’t be challenged in the current climate.”

Project 21, a “National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives,” celebrated the repeal. Project 21 member Dr. Carol Swain supported the decision, saying it would help de-emphasize the pressure that individuals face to get four-year degrees that result in unmanageable student loans.

“It’s really going to be helpful for a lot of minority students, ” Swain said. “Once we start moving away from the idea that everyone has to have a four-year degree to be successful, then we will be better off as a society. We have people who are talented that are being pushed into higher education that may not have the skills to be successful there, and as a consequence they will major in fields where it is very unlikely for them to graduate with any type of marketable skills so that their pay will not support the debt that they’re going to incur.”

Swain also expressed confidence that minority students would still gain admission to elite institutions without affirmative action.

When contacted about the repeal of the guidance, Philadelphia area college and university representatives replied with emails touting the benefits of diversity in an academic setting, and none of them reported plans to change their admissions procedures.

Swarthmore College interim director of communications Mark Anskis said: “We continue to believe that our holistic admissions process, which considers race as one of many potential factors, is essential to Swarthmore’s ability to provide students with a rich educational experience that prepares them to contribute meaningfully to their communities and the world.”

Brandon Lausch, Temple University’s director of strategic marketing and communications, said, “Fostering diversity includes consideration of many characteristics of Temple applicants, including academic achievement, extracurricular activities, ethnicity, race, gender, socioeconomic status and life experience, among other aspects.”

Haverford College cited Fisher v. University of Texas, a 2016 Supreme Court case that found the use of race in admissions policy to be constitutional.

Jess Lord, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at Haverford, said, “We have no plans to change Haverford’s admission policies based on the Trump administration’s rescission of the affirmative action guidelines. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case remains the law, and we will continue to operate our process in keeping with that judgment.”

The University of Pennsylvania emphasized the opportunity, innovation, and positive societal impact of diversity.

Ron Ozio, director of media relations at Penn, said that “We remain firmly committed to a remarkably talented, hardworking, and diverse student body.”

Drexel University promised “necessary access, support and opportunity” for all applicants in its statement.

Britt Faulstick, Drexel’s assistant director of media relations, wrote in an email: “At Drexel, our resolve to offer educational opportunities to a diverse student population from around the world is stronger than ever. We continue to provide the necessary access, support and opportunity to all because we truly value the unique perspectives and contributions that each and every student brings to our community and our academic experience.”

Bryn Mawr College said that they “do not have a statement at this time.”