Republicans Target Minority Scholarships After Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling

It took Republicans no time at all to take the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision and use it to attack other educational initiatives intended to support people of color. On Thursday — the same day the Court declared race-conscious admissions policies unconstitutional — the state’s attorney general, Andrew Bailey, dispatched a letter to colleges and universities across the state: “Missouri institutions must identify all policies that give preference to individuals on the basis of race and immediately halt the implementation of such policies.” Hours later, the University of Missouri — which enrolls 70,000 students across four campuses — declared, in a statement acknowledging Bailey’s letter, it would end race-based financial aid programs.

“As allowed by prior law, a small number of our programs and scholarships have used race/ethnicity as a factor for admissions and scholarships. Those practices will be discontinued, and we will abide by the new Supreme Court ruling concerning legal standards that applies to race-based admissions and race-based scholarships,” Christian Basi, spokesperson for the university, wrote.

The majority’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. The President and Fellows of Harvard University concerned college admissions, but GOP officials are citing one specific line to challenge other programs intended to level the playing field for underrepresented communities: “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.” Both Bailey and Republican Rep. Robin Vos, speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly invoked the line as they announced plans to target financial aid. Vos declared his intention to introduce laws that would end scholarships, grants, and other programs intended to encourage minority enrollment at Wisconsin’s colleges and universities the same day the court handed down the decision.

It’s not a mystery what happens to the enrollment numbers when public university systems end affirmative action. The University of California system — which was forced to end race-conscious college admissions in 1996 after voters passed a ballot measure banning the practice — offers an instructive example. The year its policy went into effect, Black and Latino enrollment dropped by more than 40%, according to one study.

In an amicus brief filed last year, the University of California chancellors warned that, 27 years after the system ended affirmative action, U.C. still “struggles to enroll a student body that is sufficiently racially diverse to attain the educational benefits of diversity.” It’s a similar story in Florida, where former Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law banning affirmative action in college admissions in 1999. The share of Black students enrolling in college has steadily declined in the years since, even as the number of Black high school students has remained the same.

Even before the Court’s seismic decision, Republican lawmakers in states around the country were targeting race-conscious policies: The Arkansas Senate passed a bill earlier this year that would end minority scholarships and requirements for state-funded colleges and universities to recruit and retain minority students, among other programs designed to incentivize diversity. (The bill was tabled in the House.) Louisiana Republicans put forth their own proposal to end race-based considerations in both admissions and financial aid decisions. A similar bill was introduced in North Dakota, where it failed earlier this year. The North Dakota Universities System lobbied against the bill, arguing it would put critical federal funding at risk — but the Supreme Court’s decision last week upends that argument.

All this, of course, is what Edward Blum, the conservative activist who pushed the affirmative action case to the Supreme Court, intended. “Virtually all race-exclusive scholarships were already illegal as I understand the law,” Blum told Inside Higher Ed. “But whatever confusion there may have been before the SFFA ruling, it is correct that race-exclusive fellowships, scholarships, and general educational programs must end.”

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