While Maryland’s college leaders said the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed race-conscious admissions was a setback for racial equality, experts say the ruling won’t prevent local institutions from using some of their existing admissions criteria to create diverse student bodies.

Educators and academics said the ruling will make them work harder to encourage Black and Latino students to apply to selective colleges, and others said they will have to increase their efforts to prepare those students to make them competitive applicants.

“We will follow the law. The law will have to be interpreted for us, and we will do that. We won’t change our core principles. We are committed to equity on this campus, and we’ll continue to be committed to it,” said Dr. Bruce E. Jarrell, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore in a conversation with faculty and students after the ruling.

Presidents from private and public universities in the state sent out statements shortly after the ruling saying the decision was a major blow to their attempts to build a diverse academic community that represents the country’s population. They also said they are committed to having students from different backgrounds and races interacting in classes and living together.

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“There is no doubt that the success we have enjoyed in ensuring full participation of underrepresented students is jeopardized by this decision,” said Ronald J. Daniels, the president of the Johns Hopkins University in a statement.

Coppin State University president Anthony L. Jenkins said the ruling would have “a chilling effect on campuses where students of color and students from underrepresented backgrounds question whether they belong, are accepted, and are valued. ... This decision will erode many of the gains we have made as a global educational and economic leader.”

The ruling may dampen interest from Black and Latino students in pursuing a spot at a public state flagship university, according to Pamela R. Bennett, a professor in the school of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who has studied the issue. “We found that where affirmative action has been banned, Black and Hispanic students shifted their enrollments to less selective institutions,” she said.

Nine states, including California, Michigan and Washington, have already banned consideration of race in admissions and saw a steep drop in minority enrollment in the states’ leading public universities.

When Bennett and her colleagues looked at applications at selective public universities in general, they found increases in applications by Asian and white students. “Universities can only choose students from their application pools. If white and Asian applicants make up a larger portion of the applicant pool than the past, it is possible that might increase” the proportion of white and Asian students accepted, she said.

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Colleges and universities will have to make greater efforts to recruit Black and Latino students, Bennett said.

“I think we are absolutely losing something with every decision the court makes that ties the hands of colleges and universities from expanding opportunity to historically marginalized groups,” said Bennett.

Students from those groups already represent only a small percentage of the admitted students in selective colleges. After a decade of increased recruiting efforts, Johns Hopkins said its Black students make up 16% and Hispanic students nearly 24% of the last entering undergraduate class. “And it goes without saying that these students are among those with the strongest academic credentials in the country,” said the statement from Daniels.

At Maryland’s public flagship university the figure was no higher. Black undergraduates in the fall of 2022 at College Park represented just 12% of the student body, in a state where 33% of students in K-12 public schools are Black.

Mark Graber, professor in the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said he didn’t expect much to change in a practical sense.

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“The decision is very narrow,” he said. “It says you cannot use race for diversity purposes, but what it doesn’t say is if someone has a history of overcoming prejudice that’s OK to consider.”

Universities that always considered students’ whole experiences can and will continue to do so, and those that did not but want a diverse student body will now start, Graber said. The court decision will not stop them from considering “proxies” such as poverty and other disadvantages that some people experience, he said. They could recruit from high schools with large percentages of Black and Latino students or use certain ZIP codes with higher percentages of disadvantaged students to increase the pool of Black and Latino candidates.

Johns Hopkins expects to change its admissions process in light of the ruling and after reviewing changes universities have made in states where the law has changed. Daniels said the university “will continue to reduce the barriers that stand between exceptional students and the promise of equal opportunity that forms the bedrock of our country and our university.”

Despite those options left open for universities, the Supreme Court decision was seen by many Maryland education leaders as a step backwards.

“Race still matters in our country. We just have to look at the challenges we face,” said Freeman Hrabowski, the former president of UMBC. He recalled a time in his youth when a University of Alabama president said his institution did not want Black students.

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“And yet, we did not give up. We cannot give up now,” he said. “We have to be more inclusive, not less, in our country if we are going to reduce the astounding inequality.” Colleges and universities, he said, must be vigilant and insist on educating students from all backgrounds.

The decision will require more of high schools as well, said Baltimore City schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who remembers being in a room years ago when a college president said that affirmative action was temporary and that school district leaders should prepare students as though it would one day end.

“We needed to work in a way that we thought it was temporary so that we could put in place the kind of education that would make it unnecessary,” Santelises said she was told. As a school district leader, she said, she has tried to raise teacher and principal expectations for where students are expected to apply and go to college, has increased access to high-level coursework, and is seeing the results. One student from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is going to Harvard University next year, the first student anyone at the school can remember going to Harvard.

The school district must also help parents understand the academic preparation and the support students will need to get into a competitive college.

Santelises, who has degrees from Brown, Columbia and Harvard universities, said she does not believe her own children, who have many advantages, are the Black students who race-conscious admissions were intended to benefit.

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”If I could give up my kids’ spot so that the young man from Dunbar could go, I would do that,” she said. The question is, what “are we doing to make sure that a diverse set of young people understand and have the opportunity?”

Leaders at Morgan State University, a historically Black college in Baltimore that is starting a medical school, said there is a need for universities to graduate more Black doctors.

“Historically, affirmative action has been an essential tool for ensuring that medical schools can maintain diverse student populations,” said Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, president of a proposed Maryland School of Osteopathic Medicine at Morgan State University. “This ruling may significantly limit our ability to recruit and train Black doctors, potentially exacerbating health disparities in our country.”

But Hrabowski said a way forward will be found. “When institutions are determined to be inclusive, they find ways to do that to continue to build access and equality in America.”

Mark Sherman of the Associated Press contributed reporting.



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