Supreme Court Upholds Race-Conscious Admissions for Higher Education

By Clarence Okoh

The Supreme Court of the United States recently issued its highly anticipated ruling in Fisher v Texas, upholding the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions practice. The 4-3 decision ensures that colleges and universities can continue to use affirmative action policies to promote access to higher education for communities of color. As our nation’s workforce becomes more racially diverse and the educational requirements of quality jobs are elevated, people of color need expanded access to higher education to ensure that our economy is vibrant, equitable, and inclusive.

This is the second time that the Court has ruled on this case; the first ruling, a 7-1 decision, came in 2013 when the Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to apply a more rigorous evaluation in determining the constitutionally of Texas’ program. The June 23 ruling affirms that the program does in fact meet this higher standard and further underscores the critical role of racial diversity in shaping positive learning environments.

Recent data on postsecondary enrollment demonstrate the need for continued efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in higher education. Despite decades of minority undergraduate growth, representation remains disparate across institutions. Additionally, some of these longer-term growth trends have been marked by more recent declines in some communities of color.  The National Center for Education Statistics found that between 2010 and 2014, total African American enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions declined by 8.1 percent, and total American Indian and Alaska Native enrollment declined by 22.1 percent which represent particularly large declines relative to the change in overall population for these groups. As noted in an amicus brief submitted by the Kirwan Institute—with support from CLASP, 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys, and other Black male achievement initiatives—inequities in access to higher education will persist or worsen without admissions practices that are both holistic and race-conscious. 

While the Fisher decision should be celebrated, optimism over the Court’s ruling should be tempered by recent developments impacting communities of color. On the same day as the Fisher decision, the Supreme Court jeopardized the futures of millions of immigrant families with its ruling in U.S. v Texas, which effectively invalidated President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA). While Fisher represents a clear victory for racial equity in higher education; there is still much work to do to fully demonstrate that lives of people of color truly matter.