Affirmative action’s end demands a rethink


As the class of 2027 arrives on college campuses, higher education leaders are grappling with a new challenge: how to maintain – and increase – the diversity of future classes, after the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded decision to bar race as one of many factors in admission, even as it allowed schools to continue considering other background characteristics, including gender, sexual orientation, geography, and financial wherewithal.

Colleges must now work harder to ensure the diversity of their classes, including by increasing outreach to high-performing low-income students and admitting more of them, rather than penalizing them because of their financial status. One of the main reasons I made a gift to enable Johns Hopkins University (my alma mater) to become permanently need-blind was to guarantee that no applicant is ever discriminated against because of financial status. Since the gift, diversity on campus has continued to increase.

While selective colleges must do more to improve the diversity of their student bodies (an effort Bloomberg Philanthropy is helping to lead), the Supreme Court’s decision is hardly the only obstacle standing in the way of increasing the number of Black and Latino college graduates.

To put the college landscape in perspective: Fewer than 70 of the country’s more than 3,000 colleges and universities have admission rates of 25% or less, and they educate just 3% of all undergraduates. The court’s ruling will most directly affect those schools, but what about all the others?

The fact is, many of America’s colleges admit most students who apply. Of the country’s 15.4 million undergraduates, 56% attend colleges that admit at least three-quarters of applicants and 90% go to schools that admit more than half. Because such colleges accept nearly all students who meet minimum requirements, an applicant’s race is usually irrelevant in admissions decisions.

The Court’s decision poses challenges to elite schools, but also underscores the needs of all the other schools, too. The political discussion has focused on the response of elite colleges – and that’s understandable, given the outsize role they play in educating the leaders of the future. But no less important is the responsibility of governments to strengthen the system as a whole.

The main challenge facing most colleges is not the diversity of their classes, but rather their enrollment numbers and graduation rates. Such schools are rarely the focus of public attention, which tends to go to the most elite institutions, but policymakers should be doing more to help them – and their students – succeed.

Unfortunately, years of underfunding and weak accountability have left many nonselective colleges incapable of fulfilling even the most basic task of keeping students on track to earn degrees. While 90% of undergraduates at selective four-year colleges graduate on time, barely 1 in 4 students at open-enrollment schools do. Sadly, 40% drop out within two years – all but ensuring diminished career prospects, reduced lifetime earnings, and a debt burden they will struggle to repay, with default harming their credit and making home and auto purchases more difficult.

Addressing these shortcomings would go a long way toward improving career opportunities for low-income and Black and Latino students. For starters, states should direct a greater share of resources away from selective flagship universities and toward schools that serve broader, less affluent populations. Policymakers should also require colleges to provide greater transparency about enrollment, graduation rates and career results for all students. And support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions, as well as community and technical colleges – which enroll a higher share of Black and Latino students than four-year schools – should also be raised.

There is also much more states can be doing to strengthen nondegree, work-based programs, such as apprenticeships, that provide alternative pathways to good-paying jobs. And above all, states need to vastly improve their K-12 school systems by adopting strategies that have been proven to work: investing in individualized tutoring, rewarding high-performing teachers with higher pay, expanding successful public charter schools, and strengthening accountability measures.

The continued failure of so many K-12 schools around the country is a national crisis, and yet it is hardly getting any attention from politicians in either party.

The only way elected officials will be willing to shake up a broken status quo – one that imposes especially high costs on Black and Latino communities – is if the public demands it.

Michael Bloomberg PHOTO: Twitter (X) @MikeBloomberg

Michael R. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, U.N. Special Envoy on Climate Ambition and Solutions, and chair of the Defense Innovation Board.



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