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Blog Post · March 23, 2023

California’s Private Colleges Are Preparing for the End of Affirmative Action

photo - University of Southern California Campus

When the US Supreme Court issues its ruling on a pair of lawsuits challenging affirmative action in admissions practices of colleges and universities, California’s private higher education institutions may find themselves in the same boat as the state’s public systems—which have been barred from using race/ethnicity in admissions processes since Prop 209 passed in 1996. We talked with Kristen Soares, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU)—and a member of the PPIC Higher Education Center Advisory Council—about the potential impact of the court’s decision.

photo - Kristen Soares

How does race/ethnicity currently factor into the admissions process at AICCU member colleges?

AICCU represents a broad range of colleges and universities—from large universities like the University of Southern California to liberal arts colleges with 500 students. Our membership includes over 80 independent higher education institutions that serve 184,000 undergraduates. AICCU member institutions account for about a quarter of bachelor’s degrees and a majority of graduate degrees awarded annually in California.

We’re committed to racial/ethnic diversity in our classrooms. It’s really important that our learning environments reflect the diversity of this state. It’s this diversity that creates enriching learning environments and prepares students to thrive in a global workplace. We’re all part of a social equity agenda to advance baccalaureate attainment among underrepresented groups, and admissions is certainly part of that.

Some institutions use race and ethnicity in admissions, some don’t. But none of them right now are denied being able to use race.

If the Supreme Court rules that race/ethnicity can no longer be used, what impact would this decision have on admissions and enrollment at AICCU colleges?

I think it’ll affect all of our colleges—this will be a blanket decision. How deep and far that decision will go, we don’t know. But at a minimum we are expecting the court to rule that race-conscious college admissions processes are unconstitutional.

It may have impacts on all institutions who have special scholarships around race. And pathway preparation programs that are trying to support Latino/a students, Black students. You have the admissions process but you also have the preparation process.

Outreach to underrepresented students and their families will absolutely become more important. If you look at the amicus brief by University of California President Drake, you see just how much effort they have poured as a system into outreach, and it’s still difficult to move the needle. So, I anticipate that this is going to be a lot of work on our part and in collaboration with partners who are invested in students having equal opportunity to attend and succeed in college.

What steps can AICCU colleges take to ensure that they maintain a diverse and representative student body if affirmative action admissions policies are banned?

 We’ll have to go to holistic review—similar to our public counterparts. It may be more time-intensive but can help meet goals of equity and diversity. Part of what AICCU will be doing is working with our institutions, helping them bring training resources together to prepare their staff. We’re making admissions decisions now, so this would impact the next cycle but there will be immediate implications.

In the meantime, we’re thinking about how to communicate clearly and effectively to students and families to encourage them to apply to our schools, that our commitment to diverse learning environments remains and there is a place for them. Communications—working with our important stakeholders, working with policymakers, working with every group that we can to assure students and families that we are committed to racial and ethnic diversity.

We’ll have to work with our public counterparts, who already have these constraints in their admissions processes, and see what we can learn from them. We’ll also work with the California Student Aid Commission to be really clear about the promise of the Cal Grant program, which can make the difference as to whether a student goes to college. Today, half of Cal Grant recipients at independent private colleges are Latino.

We recently launched California Private College Is Possible, a new initiative to better share admissions policies, financial aid policies, what it takes to go to private colleges. We need to communicate in this new platform to prospective students, and their families, about our continued commitment to diversity. We’re not going to walk away from that. It’s part of the mission of Independent California Colleges and Universities.


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