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What colleges can do about diversity after Supreme Court's affirmative action ruling

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down affirmative action is expected to lead to declines in racial diversity at colleges and universities. That's been the case in places like California and Florida, where race-conscious admissions were banned years ago. So what can colleges do to maintain and even increase diversity in the student body? Joining me now is Natasha Warikoo. She is a professor of sociology at Tufts University and author of "Is Affirmative Action Fair?: The Myth Of Equity In College Admissions." Good morning.

NATASHA WARIKOO: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So let me start right there with the title of your book. You call equity in college admissions a myth. You pose the question how fair affirmative action is in the first place. Can you elaborate on that?

WARIKOO: Sure. Well, you know, and I talk in the book about how, you know, ultimately, asking whether affirmative action is fair is asking the wrong question because that centers the issue of, you know, is this fair? The sort of - the follow onto that - is it fair, often, to white students or Asian Americans? And in reality, you know, affirmative action is a policy that really is about furthering the goals of higher education. And we should really be thinking about admissions not as, you know, a reward for achievement and - you know, some people deserve to be admitted and some people don't. No one deserves this. But rather, colleges are trying to admit a student body that furthers their mission. And most colleges' missions are about contributing to our shared society. So looking towards the future rather than the past - not what did you do, but what will you do in the future? And I conclude in the book that, you know, it's clear that racial diversity in elite colleges, so that these people can go on to become our future leaders, diversify our professions, is really something that will benefit our entire American society for the better.

SCHMITZ: Now, while last week's Supreme Court decision applies to all public and private universities and colleges in the country, only a small portion have highly selective admissions, where fewer than 50% of applicants get in. Those will therefore be the most impacted. What response do you expect from those schools?

WARIKOO: Yeah. I mean, I - it's pretty clear that most, you know, college leaders, admissions officers, heads of admissions really care about racial diversity for their student body because they see the benefits of diversity on their campus in terms of students' experiences on campus in terms of what they go off and do in the future - again, connecting to the university goals. So they're committed, and they will try a lot of different things. They already are, and, you know, hopefully they will be doubling down on these efforts - you know, things like recruitment in, you know, underrepresented communities that are perhaps close to the university or further afield; things like pathways programs, where they kind of build partnerships with, again, schools or communities; give students extra - students who seem like they might, with a little support, be successful at the university - give them some more support so that they can then get exposed to the campus and then hopefully matriculate in the future; and then other things like - in terms of admissions, like percent plans. If you're, say, in the top 4%, 5% of your graduating class, you can - you know, these are things that have been used in the University of California system, University of Texas system - you get to automatically be admitted to one of the top colleges. You know, really doubling down on holistic admissions - taking much more consideration into your background. So these are - there's a whole range of things that colleges can and I think will do - are already doing and will double down on.

SCHMITZ: When we're talking about these elite institutions - you know, for example, Harvard. You know, yesterday a civil rights group filed a complaint to stop legacy admissions there, which they say...

WARIKOO: Yep.

SCHMITZ: ...Overwhelmingly benefits white and wealthy students. How difficult will it be to change those practices?

WARIKOO: Yeah. I mean, I think that colleges can and should end legacy admissions. That doesn't - it seems pretty clear in terms of, you know, what they are getting from those legacy admissions policies and the sort of stain on their - you know, this idea of fairness or even just equity that it creates, to me, isn't worth it - pretty clear. But I think this idea that ending legacy admissions is going to compensate for affirmative action is wrong. And when you look at the data, it won't - ending that policy won't bring the numbers of underrepresented minorities back to where it was in the past. But absolutely, they should, and I think they are going to think about it. I think they worry about the financial implications.

SCHMITZ: That's Natasha Warikoo, professor of sociology at Tufts University. Thank you.

WARIKOO: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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