- File: James Buck
- University of Vermont
The schools — Middlebury College, Champlain College, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont — described plans to evaluate applicants "holistically" but were less specific about steps they'd take to ensure that diversity.
In its 6-3 decision, with conservative justices in the majority, the Supreme Court ruled that "race-conscious" admissions programs at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina were unlawful, marking the end of over 50 years of affirmative action policies. The decision, which limits how race is considered in the admissions process, could make it increasingly difficult for schools to increase their diversity.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the court, blasted the decision in a blistering dissent that called it "a tragedy for us all."
"Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways, and today’s ruling makes things worse, not better," she wrote.
The decision found that using race in the admissions process violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But the ruling could make the college application essay all the more important. Applicants can still discuss race in essays, even if the ruling bans race as a determining factor in the admissions process.
Middlebury College, which uses affirmative action in its admissions, pointed to that section of Roberts' ruling in a letter to the school community about the high court's decision.
Middlebury recently announced the continuation of its test-optional policy, in which applicants who don't submit SAT or ACT scores are still given "full and equal consideration." The program started as a three-year pilot program during the pandemic and has been re-upped for another three years.
"Using race as one factor among many has allowed Middlebury to welcome classes with students from a wider range of backgrounds and perspectives than the Middlebury of the early 20th century," Julia Ferrante, associate vice president for public affairs, wrote in an email to Seven Days.
It's unclear if the University of Vermont uses affirmative action in its admissions policies, but the racial makeup of its student body has stayed relatively the same over the past decade: around 81 percent white. That's more diverse than the state as a whole, which is about 94 percent white, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
Race is not a factor in Saint Michael’s College's admissions process.
"Rather, we consider each student’s lived experiences — and especially are interested in students who want to have a social impact through service, social justice, and bringing communities together," Elizabeth Murray, associate director of public relations, said in an email.
Murray didn't immediately have data on the racial makeup of the student body, but said "our community is predominantly comprised of people who identify as white, aligning with the racial diversity of Vermont and the other colleges in the state."
Champlain College uses race as a factor in its admissions process. The school did not provide exact figures but said its racial diversity has remained steady for the past five years.
Champlain said in a statement that it's "discouraged by the Supreme Court's decision to limit the consideration of race in the college admission process."
"By admitting and enrolling a diverse student body at our institution, we encourage our community members to hear from, learn with, and grow alongside individuals with different life experiences," the college said.
Data from the University of Michigan and the University of California, where race-conscious admissions have been banned for more than 15 years, show a stark decline in diversity. At Michigan, Black undergraduate enrollment declined to 4 percent in 2021 from 7 percent in 2006, despite its special admissions office in Detroit meant to recruit Black students, according to a brief submitted to the Supreme Court. Native American enrollment, once as high as 1 percent, dropped to 0.11 percent in 2021, the brief said.
The brief also said that in 2021, the entering first-year class at the University of California, Berkeley, included 258 Black students and 27 Native American students out of a class of 6,931. The California higher ed system has spent more than $500 million since 2004 to increase diversity, without much success.
The high court's decision was denounced by top national Democrats, including President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) weighed in, too, tweeting that "institutional racism exists. It must be combatted. I urge colleges and universities to remain committed to recruiting and enrolling students of color."
At the local level, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance also responded, saying the decision "disregards the persistent racial disparities in education but also threatens the progress made in achieving racial justice and equity across all sectors of society. "