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Supreme Court Upholds Race as an Acceptable Factor in Admissions Decisions



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The University of Texas at Austin’s admissions program evaluates candidates under a “holistic” approach that includes considering candidates’ races.  The program was challenged by a white female student alleging that she was denied equal protection under the Constitution.  The Supreme Court held in its 4-to-3 opinion that the program is constitutional.

The Supreme Court has previously struck down admissions programs that mechanically assign points to a candidate based on race, but it has upheld holistic systems.

At the University, in-state candidates who fall outside the top 10% of their high school class are evaluated under two indices: an Academic Index and a Personal Achievement Index.  The Academic Index is calculated by combining a candidate’s SAT score and academic performance.  The Personal Achievement Index is calculated based upon a multitude of factors, including:

Required/optional essays
Letters of recommendation
Extracurricular experience
Special circumstances

Race is a factor under “special circumstances.”  Also included within “special circumstances” are the overall socioeconomic position of the candidate and the socioeconomic position of the candidate’s community.  Under this approach, the Supreme Court held that race is merely a factor of a factor, and, therefore, the plaintiff was not denied equal protection under the Constitution.    

Moving forward, institutions that utilize admissions processes that consider a candidate’s race only as a factor should be compliant with the Supreme Court’s holding.  However, key opponents to the Supreme Court’s decision claim that the opinion leaves the door wide open for similar challenges at other schools.    

Steptoe & Johnson’s Higher Education Team is prepared to assist institutions in navigating this complex ruling.