Biden Administration offers guidance on building diverse college campuses

Last week, the Department of Education released a report calling on states, education advocates, and postsecondary institutions to consider a series of actions—such as increasing financial aid for low-income students and recruiting applicants from historically underserved communities—that would build diverse college student populations, according to The Washington Post. The report warns that following the Supreme Court’s ruling ending race-conscious admissions, institutions will need to prevent enrollment declines among students of color, given what happened in California, Florida, Michigan and other states when they banned race-based affirmative action. 

To aid institutions in these efforts, the report proposes legal avenues schools can take to advance what it calls “the critical mission of socioeconomic and racial diversity in American colleges and universities.” 

“Colleges and universities may have lost a vital tool for creating vibrant, diverse campus communities, but this report makes clear that they need not—and must not—lose their commitment to equal opportunity and student body diversity,” Miguel Cardona, United States Secretary of Education says in the report. “Our country’s future depends on it.”

The Supreme Court ruling largely affected predominantly white, selective institutions that tend to enroll students from high-income backgrounds, have higher graduation rates, and graduate students who earn higher wages than low-income students and students of color who attend less-selective institutions. Since the ruling, some colleges have even ended consideration of race in areas the court did not address, such as scholarships.

Related:Georgetown responds to Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action in admissions >

Recommendations for supporting campus diversity

The report, which does not impose new legal requirements, comes a month after the Departments of Education and Justice offered legal guidance on how colleges can pursue diversity efforts. While it’s unclear whether these new suggestions will be as effective as race-conscious admissions in creating racially diverse classes, experts hope the recommendations can help bring other kinds of diversity to campus. 

Drawing on evidence-based strategies schools have used to successfully diversify their student populations, the recommendations include:

  • Strengthening partnerships with K-12 schools, community colleges, and Minority-Serving Institutions (including Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic-Serving Institutions) that serve low-income students and historically marginalized populations
  • Conducting a holistic review of applicants’ achievements in the context of their personal backgrounds, including their financial means, the educational opportunities available to them, the schools they attended, and experiences of hardship (including discrimination) and sources of inspiration and resilience  
  • Ending practices, such as legacy admissions, that show preference to students from economically privileged backgrounds 
  • Reducing unequal access to a postsecondary education by providing more accessible college advising and direct admissions programs; simplifying the financial aid process; boosting need-based financial aid; increasing student support services so students can complete their credentials; and allocating resources for students to ensure they feel welcomed on campus 
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