Corrections & Clarifications: This article was revised on July 7, 2023, to clarify that Walter M. Kimbrough is no longer the president of Dillard University.
The Supreme Court’s decision last week banning affirmative action in college admissions says nothing about scholarships, but aid tied to students’ race is already off the table at several large universities.
In Missouri, the attorney general directed all colleges to “immediately” stop considering race in scholarships, and in Kentucky, the flagship university’s president suggested the institution should do the same. Even in purple Wisconsin, the assembly’s Republican speaker alluded to upcoming legislation that would ban race-conscious financial aid.
Advocates say these scholarships are one of the few levers colleges have left to be proactive about enrolling students of color now that they can no longer consider race as one of many factors in admissions. That’s especially true as institutions in some states also roll back diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs – and as young people nationwide question the worth of taking on student loan debt.
“The assault on affirmative action was simply the foundation to go after everything,” tweeted Walter M. Kimbrough, former president of Dillard University in Louisiana. “Affirmative action bans won’t have the reach that ending these scholarship programs will.”
Race largely has been a factor in admissions only at the nation’s most selective, elite universities. Scholarships that consider students’ race or ethnicity are widely available.
Missouri attorney general to colleges: Adopt ‘race-blind’ practices ‘immediately’
Shortly after the court issued its ruling, Andrew Bailey, Missouri’s Republican attorney general, sent a letter to all the state’s colleges, public and private, ordering them to implement the decisions “immediately.”
“All Missouri programs that make admitting decisions by disfavoring individuals based on race – not just college admissions, but also scholarships, employment, law reviews, etc. – must immediately adopt race-blind standards,” he wrote.
The University of Missouri system, which doesn’t practice affirmative action in admissions and is predominantly white, has at least until recently offered scholarships that considered race as one of many factors. In response to the letter, it stated: “Those practices will be discontinued, and we will abide by the new Supreme Court ruling concerning legal standards that applies to race-based admissions and race-based scholarships.”
Last year, 5.5% of MU’s students were Black and 5.3% were Hispanic. Fewer than 3% identified as Asian. Just 5% of the university’s total spending on scholarships last year went toward aid for people of color.
Similar developments are brewing in Kentucky.
“We are still reviewing the details of the ruling, but, based on our initial understanding, it appears that the court has restricted the consideration of race with respect to admissions and scholarships,” Eli Capilouto, the University of Kentucky’s president, said last Thursday .
Wisconsin speaker: Legislation to come
Also on Thursday, Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of Wisconsin’s state assembly, indicated he’d work to abolish such scholarships in his state. Vos was responding to a tweet argued numerous higher education aid programs in the state amount to discrimination under the court’s ruling. The tweeter, an attorney and alumni of the conservative Christian Hillsdale Collegepointed to grants earmarked for Black American students, American Indian students, and students of Hispanic or certain Southeast Asian descent.
“We are reviewing the decision and will introduce legislation to correct the discriminatory laws on the books and pass repeals in the fall,” Vos tweeted Thursday afternoon, also retweeting a user claiming Ivy League colleges “hate rural whites.”
This “apparent push to end minority scholarship is thinly veiled white “revanchism,” wrote MSNBC blogger Ja’han Jones.
After the ruling, Ed Blum, the architect of the cases challenging Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs, said, “Virtually all race-exclusive scholarships were already illegal as I understand the law. But whatever confusion there may have been before the (Students for Fair Admissions) ruling, it is correct that race-exclusive fellowships, scholarships, and general educational programs must end.”
Charles Barkley adjusts will to set aside ‘scholarships for Black students’
Henock Solomon, 26, is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Boulder. Since his days as a K-12 student, scholarships have given him educational opportunities he wouldn’t have had otherwise. These studies, some of which were designated for African Americans, allowed him to attend private school, earn his undergraduate degree and enroll in law school.
Had it not been for that aid, Solomon says, he would have had to “completely reevaluate what I want to do.” “It’s very hard for us to get into these advanced fields because of the costs and because of the time,” he said. Getting rid of them “will further perpetuate a pipeline and a system where the only people who have the opportunity to be in those fields are people who come from good financial situations.”
Even as states including Missouri unwind race-based scholarships, however, many colleges and organizations have reiterated their commitment to scholarships and other programs aimed at making campuses more diverse.
Charles Barkley, the TV commentator and former NBA player, said he would be updating his will to leave Auburn University in Alabama $5 million for scholarships for Black students. “That’s just my way of trying to make sure Auburn stays diverse,” he said of his alma mater. More than 3 in 4 students or 78% at the land-grant institution are white.
Even before affirmative action ban,Many flagship universities didn’t reflect their state’s Black or Latino high school graduates
Given the racial disparities even at public universities like Auburn, the stakes of these scholarships, advocates say, have never been higher. Citing those stakes, legal and financial aid experts are urging colleges and state leaders to be cautious with their directives.
“The SCOTUS opinion was squarely focused on institutions’ admissions policies,” Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told the online publication Inside Higher Ed. “The highest court in the country took months to deliberate on this issue, and schools should similarly consider any implications on financial aid … (and) be careful about overreacting.”
Contact Alia Wong at (202) 507-2256 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @aliaemily.