Navigating the Path to Diversity: Biden-Harris Administration's Guidance for University Admissions Following the June Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action

“Ensuring access to higher education for students from different backgrounds is one of the most powerful tools we have to prepare graduates to lead an increasingly diverse nation and make real our country’s promise of opportunity for all,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

On Monday, August 14 the Biden-Harris Administration shared initial guidance for colleges and universities outlining potential actions that universities can pursue to fulfill their commitment to diversity in the admissions process without explicitly using race as a deciding factor. The Departments of Education and Justice issued a letter and a “questions and answers” sheet to help universities navigate next steps following the fulling.

The Biden-Harris Administration's stance on diversity in higher education is characterized by a comprehensive approach. While acknowledging the constraints imposed by the Supreme Court's ruling, the administration has emphasized the importance of pursuing alternative methods to achieve diversity and representation in university admissions. This guidance takes into consideration not only race but also other factors like socioeconomic status, geography, and life experiences that contribute to a diverse student body.

The Supreme Court's ruling in June 2023, which banned the use of race in university admissions, marked a significant turning point in the ongoing debate about affirmative action. The ruling has raised important questions about the future of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts in higher education. The ramifications of this ruling extend beyond admissions, influencing various aspects of academia including hiring practices, tenure, scholarships, and financial aid.


While international education, global learning, and cultural exchange were not directly addressed in the ruling, how the field implements DEIB and representation will be directly affected in downstream initiatives and policies. While the ruling directly pertains to domestic admissions policies, its indirect effects could shape efforts to increase diversity and representation in study abroad, international student admissions, faculty and staff, and more.

"...its indirect effects could shape efforts to increase diversity and representation in study abroad, international student admissions, faculty and staff, and more."

In light of the Supreme Court ruling, the Biden-Harris Administration’s guidance compels universities to explore alternative approaches to enhance diversity and representation in all aspects of academia. Institutions are encouraged to and will likely focus on holistic reviews of applicants, considering a broader range of qualities that contribute to a diverse and inclusive environment. Additionally, universities may begin to emphasize outreach and partnerships to attract underrepresented groups, both domestically and internationally. As the question and answer sheet suggests: “For example, in seeking a diverse student applicant pool, institutions may direct outreach and recruitment efforts toward schools and school districts that serve predominantly students of color and students of limited financial means.”

Retention and student success were also key points in the question and answer sheet that emphasized the importance of focusing on belonging on campus. Campus climate is an important contributor to student success, retention, and ultimately degree completion. Research has shown that when designed well, education abroad programs can contribute to retention and academic success, particularly for minoritized students, and this offers another way for education abroad to serve as a connection point for student success initiatives that focus on diverse and minoritized student populations.

Beyond admissions, the Supreme Court ruling's consequences extend to staff and faculty hiring and tenure and promotion processes, necessitating an examination of existing practices to ensure fairness and equity. Institutions may intensify efforts to recruit diverse faculty members and implement tenure policies that acknowledge a variety of contributions to academia beyond traditional metrics.

Scholarships and financial aid play a pivotal role in fostering diversity in higher education. In the wake of the SCOTUS ruling, universities may seek alternative criteria for awarding scholarships, emphasizing socioeconomic factors and applicants' unique backgrounds. This shift could impact minoritized students seeking financial assistance to education abroad, as institutions strive to ensure that these opportunities remain accessible to a diverse range of individuals.

The Biden-Harris Administration has confirmed it will provide a more comprehensive report in September outlining promising practices to build inclusive, diverse student bodies, including how colleges can give serious consideration to measures of adversity in admissions processes. This includes accounting for the financial means of a student or their family; where a student grew up and went to high school; and personal experiences of hardship or discrimination, including racial discrimination, in their admissions process. The initial guidance on diversity and representation in university admissions serves as a preliminary guide for institutions navigating the new landscape created by the Supreme Court's ruling. While the ban on using race in admissions has introduced uncertainty, it has also prompted universities to reevaluate their approach to DEIB. As the higher education community adapts, the importance of global perspectives in international education and exchange remains as crucial as ever.

For a further analysis of how international education, global learning, and cultural exchange may be influenced by the SCOTUS ruling, read Diversity Abroad’s outline of probable effects from May 2023.

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