Some Colleges Will No Longer Consider Race in Awarding Student Scholarships
Several colleges have moved to eliminate the consideration of race in scholarship decisions after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled race-conscious admissions unconstitutional on Thursday.
The Supreme Court ruling in cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill do not directly address scholarships and financial aid. Yet some institutions, including University of Kentucky and the University of Missouri System, have interpreted the decisions as restricting them from considering race or ethnicity in scholarships as well as admissions.
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Several colleges have moved to eliminate the consideration of race in awarding student scholarships since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that race-conscious admissions are unconstitutional.
The court did not directly address scholarships and financial aid in its ruling on admissions policies at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Yet some institutions, including the University of Kentucky and the University of Missouri system, have interpreted the decision as forbidding them to consider race or ethnicity in scholarships as well as admissions.
“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, president of the University of Kentucky, wrote in a statement.
When asked how much money the university sets aside for scholarships that consider race and ethnicity, a Kentucky spokeswoman said that while it does not have any “race-exclusive scholarships,” it has “numerous scholarships that consider race as one factor among many.”
“Of course, the university will comply with the most recent decisions, and we continue to review the ruling,” Whitney Siddiqi, the spokeswoman, said in an email.
On Thursday, Missouri’s attorney general sent letters to the University of Missouri system and Missouri State University, demanding that they “immediately cease their practice of using race-based standards to make decisions about things like admissions, scholarships, programs, and employment.”
While the Missouri system’s four campuses do not consider race in undergraduate admissions, some of their scholarships and graduate programs do. In a statement on Thursday, the system announced that those practices would cease. Campuses will still honor scholarships that have already been awarded.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the main campus, in Columbia, sets aside roughly $12.3 million, or 6.4 percent of its annual aid budget, for financial aid that considers race or ethnicity.
In a tweet on Thursday, Dan Lennington, a lawyer with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, called on Wisconsin’s Legislature to eliminate any scholarships that exclude state residents because of their race.
He included a screenshot referencing the Minority Undergraduate Retention program, which provides scholarships of up to $2,500 to Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Southeast Asian students to attend private nonprofit colleges, technical colleges, and tribal colleges in the state.
The institute sued the state’s Higher Educational Aids Board over the scholarship program in 2021. That case is pending in an appeals court.
The speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Robin J. Vos, responded to Lennington on Twitter that Republicans plan to propose legislation to “correct” and repeal “discriminatory laws on the books.”
The University of Wisconsin at Madison, the flagship, said on its website that it is assessing whether the Supreme Court’s decision will affect scholarships and financial aid.
Karen McCarthy, vice president for public policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said institutions would be seeking ways to recruit and retain students of color while still complying with the law.
Because the decision did not directly address scholarships, there’s still a lot that we do not know.
If the federal government doubled the Pell Grant, for example, institutions could enroll more low-income students.
“That’s not directly targeted toward race,” she said, “but because it’s targeted toward low-income students, then that is targeted toward more-diverse student populations.”
Not all institutions will be affected by the reconsideration of student-aid policies, McCarthy said, because they don’t all offer race-based scholarships.
She said she would not be surprised if the court’s decision affected selective institutions the most because they have historically been the least diverse and have worked for years to increase their diversity. The end of race-conscious admissions primarily will affect the policies of selective institutions; the vast majority of colleges nationwide accept most applicants and do not consider race in decisions.
The association of financial-aid officials is encouraging institutions to work with their lawyers to make sure they’re in compliance with the Supreme Court’s directives.
“My biggest takeaway is that because the decision did not directly address scholarships, there’s still a lot that we do not know,” McCarthy said. “So I’d be interested to see how attorneys address this decision.”