The Trump Administration is rescinding Obama-era guidance that encouraged schools to take a student’s race into account in order to promote diversity in admissions, a US official said yesterday.
The shift would give schools and universities the federal government’s blessing to take a race-neutral approach to students they consider for admission.
The action comes amid a high-profile court fight over admission at Harvard University as well as Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools’ affirmative action policies.
The high court’s most recent significant ruling on the subject bolstered colleges’ use of race among many factors in the college admission process. But the opinion’s author, Anthony Kennedy, announced his retirement last week, giving President Donald Trump a chance to replace him with a justice who will be more reliably skeptical of admissions programmes that take race and ethnicity into account.
A formal announcement was expected from the Justice and Education departments, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to discuss the new guidance ahead of its release.
The new policy would depart from the stance taken by the Obama Administration, which in a 2011 policy document said schools have a “compelling interest” in ensuring a diverse student body. The guidance said that while race should not be the primary factor in an admission decision, schools could lawfully consider it in the interest of achieving diversity.
“Institutions are not required to implement race-neutral approaches if, in their judgment, the approaches would be unworkable,” the guidance said. “In some cases, race-neutral approaches will be unworkable because they will be ineffective to achieve the diversity the institution seeks.”
The administration issued a similar guidance document in 2016 aimed at giving schools a framework for “considering race to further the compelling interests in achieving diversity and avoiding racial isolation.” That document said elementary and secondary schools, in the interest of diversity, could consider race and socio-economic status in decisions on school zoning and location, grade realignment and enrollment.
The Obama approach replaced Bush-era policy from a decade earlier that discouraged affirmative action programs and instead encouraged the use of race-neutral alternatives, like percentage plans and economic diversity programmes.