Higher education in America must adjust to a new reality after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, striking down the practice of race-conscious admissions decisions at America’s colleges and universities. In short, affirmative action in university admissions, enshrined in law for 45 years, is dead. Of course, many educators, politicians and pundits are weighing in on this decision — some with cheers, some with outrage.

I, however, write to underscore a counterpoint to this discussion. Although community colleges have existed on the periphery of the official debate around affirmative action, we live and breathe the spirit of it every single day. The community college, a peculiarly American invention, serves close to 10 million Americans a year. With our doors firmly open, we stand as proud pillars of access to all students, regardless of race, age, gender or other potentially segregating elements.

As a sector, we have served for decades, often unrecognized and undervalued, as a legitimate pathway to university admissions. We rest quietly amid this unfolding debate as a long-untapped solution for our university partners. Our well-prepared graduates should be as welcome at Harvard and the University of North Carolina as they are at Towson and UMBC. In truth, they are not.

I am proud to reaffirm the Community College of Baltimore County’s unshakable commitment to equitable access to an inclusive environment that welcomes everyone. Our college’s rallying cry, “Every one of us counts,” is much more than a catchphrase. It is an embodiment of access and opportunity for all who cross our many thresholds. It is what we believe, what we promise and what we practice. By our very mission, we have persisted as committed agents of affirmative action. With our commitment to an aggressive expansion of CCBC’s Degrees to Succeed initiative — our own version of dual admissions on steroids — we are already assisting eight university partners to get far ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision.

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The spirit of affirmative action rests implicitly in the passion we bring to our work every day. The court’s decision created a sobering moment for higher education, perhaps even an awakening to the powerful capacity of the nation’s well-developed community college sector. I would like to think this moment in time foreshadows one in which community colleges will finally achieve long-sought recognition for the role they play.

Sandra L. Kurtinitis, Essex

Sandra L. Kurtinitis is president of the Community College of Baltimore County