The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday use of affirmative action in admissions is legal under the federal Equal Protection Clause.
The case, which was argued in December, revolved around Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was a high school senior at the time her lawsuit was first filed in 2008. Fisher had applied to the University of Texas at Austin through a state program that automatically accepted students in the top 10 percent of their classes. She didn’t make the cutoff, so her application underwent a standard review process that looked at factors like grades, extracurricular activities and race. Fisher did not get in — but she alleged minority students with lesser qualifications did.
“The court’s affirmance of the university’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the university may rely on that same policy without refinement,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “It is the university’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.”
Fisher and her lawyers sued on grounds that using race in admissions was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The school’s policy was upheld in court, and she appealed. The prior decision was then upheld, so she appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 2013 sent the case back down to the lower court. The justices noted at the time that to withstand judicial review, an affirmative action policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve diversity on campus.
Thursday’s ruling came down without the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan, the latter of whom previously was involved in the case during her time with the Justice Department. It’s sure to reverberate through the higher education community, especially because the decision comes right after high school graduation season.
Make sure you’re up to date on your facts before you get involved in a debate. Read on for 20 things to know about the Fisher case and affirmative action:
1. The U.S. had about 20.6 million college students in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. About 60 percent of students are white, 15 percent are black, 15 percent are Hispanic, 6 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander and 0.9 percent are American Indian/Alaska native, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
2. These were all increases from the same statistics in 1976, when Hispanic students made up 4 percent of the student population, Asian/Pacific Islander students made up 2 percent, black students made up 10 percent and American Indian/Alaska native made up 0.7 percent.
3. About 80 percent of private, highly selective universities use affirmative action, Roll Call reported.
4. White students are up to three times more likely than black students to be accepted to the choosiest colleges, according to a 2012 Stanford University study.
5. A 2005 study from the Mellon Foundation found that affirmative action policies increase a minority student’s chance of admission by about 28 percentage points, according to the Century Foundation.
6. In general, the more selective a college is, the higher its graduation rates. Many schools have been increasing their graduation rates among underrepresented minority students, but the percentage of white students graduating within six years — about 63 percent — was still much higher than other races. About 40 percent of black students and 52 percent of Latino students graduated within the same time period.
7. Nine states ban the use of race in admissions: Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Arizona, Nebraska, Washington, California, Florida, Texas and Michigan, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
8. The Supreme Court has addressed affirmative action at least three times: University of California Regents v. Bakke, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.
9. Data analysis by the New York Times found the enrollment gap between the proportion of minority students living in a state and the ones attending colleges there increased after states outlawed affirmative action.
10. For example, at the University of California Berkeley in 1997, before the ban, 42 percent of the state’s college-aged people were Hispanic and 14 percent of freshmen were. By 2011, 49 percent of residents were Hispanic and 11 percent of freshmen were.
11. In other states, the sheer number of minority students admitted rebounded within a few years of the bans taking effect. The Century Foundation pointed to the University of Florida, where black representation was 11.7 percent before the state law, dropped to 7.2 immediately after and eventually peaked at 14.1 percent.
12. In the absence of affirmative action, colleges have adopted holistic application review systems with more emphasis on socioeconomic status, less focus on standardized test scores and additional scholarships, the Huffington Post reported.
13. The Pew Research Center found in 2014 the median net worth of white households was about $141,900, while the median net worth of black households was $11,000. For Hispanic families, it was about $13,700.
14. Admissions policies centered around finances can be problematic because students who come from more affluent families typically score better on the SAT, MSNBC reported.
15. This is due in part to the fact that higher-income students are more likely to take standardized prep courses, according to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
16. In addition, “the vast majority of very high-achieving students who are low-income do not apply to any selective college or university,” Stanford University and Harvard University researchers wrote in a 2012 study.
17. A recent report out from the same Jack Kent Cooke Foundation found that high-achieving students from low-income families made up about 3 percent of the student population at selective schools. Wealthier students made up 72 percent.
18. Schools have also tried to boost minority enrollment by starting recruitment and aid programs. For example, the University of Michigan launched a scholarship program that gives high-achieving, low -income students four free years of tuition and fees.
19. Diversity on campus matters because it makes education richer, communities stronger, society healthier and the U.S. more economically competitive, according to the American Council on Education.
20. The U.S. Census Bureau has said that by 2050, minority groups are set to grow so much, no one race will be a majority.