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Ohio universities review admission policies after Supreme Court ends affirmative action

Black student enrollment has either declined or stayed relatively similar in the past decade at most of Ohio’s 13 public universities, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
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Posted at 8:08 AM, Jul 25, 2023

The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.

Ohio colleges and universities are reviewing their admissions policies after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling to end affirmative action based on race.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the race-conscious admissions policies used by the University of North Carolina and Harvard were unlawful. Affirmative action, which is not just limited to college admissions, emerged in the 1960s as a way to address racial and gender discrimination.

“For those universities that use race in admissions, it requires a dramatic change,” said Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

Enrollment in Ohio public universities and colleges has dropped 12% in the past decade and Black student enrollment has either declined or stayed relatively similar in the past decade at most of Ohio’s 13 public universities, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati — which both consider race in their admissions decisions — are the only two public universities that saw an increase.

With the expectation of Central State University, which is a historically Black University, Black students make up a fraction of total student enrollment at Ohio’s public universities.

Affirmative action bans in other states

Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm based in Columbus, recently released a survey of Ohio economists that shows the Supreme Court’s decision could diminish diversity at Ohio universities.

“It could decrease diversity at the most selective schools, but will likely not have much effect at most institutions,” Curtis Reynolds, an economics professor at Kent State University, said in the survey.

Nine states already banned race-based affirmative action policies for public colleges: Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

Studies show that those states have seen declines in the admissions and enrollment of Black, Latinx and Indigenous people — particularly at selective and flagship institutions. Black undergraduate enrollment at the University of Michigan dwindled from 7% in 2006 to 4% in 2021.

The University of California nixed affirmative action in 1995 and a few years later the number of Black and Latino students accepted at Berkeley and UCLA were cut almost in half, according to the L.A. Times.

Those nine states can be used to try to predict what will happen in Ohio, Reynolds said in the survey.

“That research generally shows that on average there was not much change in college attendance except at the most selective schools, where minority enrollment decreased and White enrollment increased,” he said.

Ohio State University Ohio State University “considered” race and ethnic status in admission decisions, according to their most recent Common Data Set.

Race and ethnic status was given the same level of consideration as state residency, geographical residence, character/personal qualities and academic recommendations.

“The university is reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court decision and evaluating impacts. Ohio State will make any necessary changes to continue to follow all state and federal laws regarding admissions,” the university said in a brief news release.

“Ohio State has and will continue to admit and recruit highly talented students from all backgrounds across the state, nation and the world,” university spokesperson Chris Booker said in an email.

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati also “considered” race and ethnic status in admission decisions, according to their most recent Common Data Set.

Race and ethnic status was given the same level of consideration as volunteer experience, work experience, state residency, geographical residence, first generation status, extracurricular activities, class rank and standardized test scores.

UC moved to a holistic admissions model years ago, said Jack Miner, the university’s vice provost for enrollment management.

“We don’t really anticipate that it will impact our processes at all,” he said.

UC President Neville G. Pinto said in a statement that the number of “underrepresented students at UC will continue to expand.”

“Our focus will remain on reducing barriers to higher education and creating opportunities for anyone who can be successful here — regardless of race and regardless of socio-economic background,” he said.

Oberlin and Kenyon Colleges 

U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-OH, is asking Oberlin College, Kenyon College and all Ivy League universities to keep admissions records after the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I write to express concern about your institutions’ openly defiant and potentially unlawful reaction to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision,” Vance said in his July 6 letter.

“You are advised to retain admissions documents in anticipation of future congressional investigations, including digital communications between admissions officers, any demographic or other data compiled during future admissions cycles, and other relevant materials.”

Oberlin President Carmen Twillie Ambar wrote in a June 29 letter to the university that the Supreme Court decision “has left me deeply saddened and concerned for the future of higher education.”

Her letter talked about Oberlin alumna Mary Jane Patterson — who was the first Black women in the United States to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1862.

“Affirmative action is a powerful tool for addressing stubborn, corrosive inequalities and for fostering a campus community that reflects the rich tapestry of our society,” Ambar wrote in her letter. “The high court’s ruling to end the ability of colleges and universities to consider race as a factor in the admissions process disregards the crucial contributions students from historically marginalized communities make to the intellectual and cultural life of our campus.”

Oberlin, a private liberal arts college in Lorain County, had 2,986 undergraduate students enrolled for the 2022-23 school year — including 136 Black students, according to their university website.

“We are reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision carefully to fully understand its implications. Oberlin will comply with the law,” university spokeswoman Andrea Simakis said in an email.

Kenyon’s Acting President Jeff Bowman called the Supreme Court’s decision “deeply disappointing,” in a June 30 university letter.

“The court has made it more difficult for colleges and universities to fulfill their educational missions,” Bowman said. “It also dramatically understates the role race has historically played and continues to play in determining access to resources of all kinds.”

Kenyon, a private liberal arts college in Gambier, had 1,877 students enrolled in Fall 2022, according to the university’s website.