Affirmative action decision changes little for admissions

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision on June 29, overturned the use of affirmative action policies in college admissions. These policies allowed colleges to use race as a factor in admitting students to create a more diverse student body. Now the court has ruled the use of race in admission decisions unconstitutional. 

The case was brought by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, two highly selective universities. The court’s decision has prompted many changes in the admission policies of top colleges, and has raised concerns about representation of Black and Hispanic students in higher education. 

According to Glenn Getchell, director of admission, Berry has never explicitly considered race or ethnicity when evaluating applicants.

“We didn’t have a policy or a system where we would say, we’ve only got room for this many so we can only admit this one — ‘this is a person of color, so let’s admit them over a non-person of color,’” Getchell said.

Getchell added that as a moderately selective college, Berry has more flexibility to admit most applicants who are qualified to attend, a holistic determination based primarily on a student’s high school transcript, participation in activities and admission essay. In 2023, Berry admitted 58% of its 6,500 applicants. Last year, Harvard only admitted 4% of its 61,000 applicants.  

“We’ve never been in a situation where we couldn’t offer admission to students who wanted to be at Berry who showed all those strengths,” Getchell said

In compliance with the decision, Berry will be removing applicants’ race and ethnicity information from the profiles admission readers evaluate, according to Andrew Bressette, vice president for enrollment management. 

“We’re doing that because it helps all of us to make sure that none of our biases enter into it, and we’re approaching the process as blindly as possible,” Bressette said. 

Legacy status, which Bressette said is only collected for statistical use by the alumni office, will also be removed from the applications assessed by readers. 

Even with its official lack of an affirmative action policy, Berry’s incoming classes have grown more diverse over the past five years. According to data from the admission office, in 2017, only 20% of students admitted were classified as students of color. By 2023, that number grew to 37%. Bressette said that the majority of this growth has come from more inclusive recruiting efforts. 

“Part of what we’ve done is where we travel and how we really work with high school counselors and other student groups, trying to make sure that we’re casting a really wide net and being as inclusive as possible in where we go,” Bressette said. 

Still, these percentages lag behind the demographics of graduating high school students nationally. The American Council on Education projects that about 50% of high school graduates this upcoming school year will be students of color. Bressette said that Berry may consider expanding its targeted recruiting efforts, which have not been affected by the Supreme Court.

“I think the bigger challenge for us is getting more students from underserved populations into the pipeline,” Bressette said. “If we are not seeing students from inner city schools, it’s on us to do the hard work of helping them come to Berry.”

Some institutions have introduced adversity scores to increase diversity. These scores estimate the adversity an applicant has faced based on factors like family income and poverty levels in different communities. According to Getchell, while Berry does not plan to use such scores for individual admission decisions, admissions may use the data to better target underserved communities. 

“If it helps me get into a school so I can go find a kid that wants to be at Berry that needs help with access, I would consider that,” Getchell said. 

The court’s decision also does not affect colleges’ ability to encourage underrepresented groups to apply for scholarship programs. With changes coming to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), Bressette said that Berry is considering an overhaul of its financial aid programs. 

 “We’re trying to look at how we can stretch some of our scholarship dollars even farther in terms of making Berry especially for those at the highest need level,” Bressette said.

Many Berry students already qualify for need-based aidAbout 25% of Berry students qualify for the Pell Grant, a federal grant program for those with exceptional financial need. Financial need is almost evenly distributed among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

While this decision takes away a tool colleges have used to increase representation, Getchell said that Berry must continue its diversity and belonging efforts on campus. 

“If we keep doing that, then we shouldn’t see a decrease,” Getchell said.

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