Race, class, and college access Achieving diversity in a shifting legal landscape

Race, class, and college access

Current diversity practices in higher education

The report, Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape, uncovers leading practices and strategies that higher education institutions are using to advance their diversity goals. Continue reading to discover the key findings.

Read the Key Findings (PDF)

Where are we now?

In the past two decades, U.S. Supreme Court rulings and multiple statewide affirmative action bans have restricted many institutions’ options for supporting student body diversity. These policies and the subsequent legal climate could hinder colleges’ ability to sustain their commitments to student diversity.

States That Have Banned the Use of Race-Conscious Admissions Practices, 2015

Key takeaway #1:

The most widely used diversity strategies receive the least attention.

Three of the five most widely used strategies to support racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity involve student outreach and recruitment.

Targeted recruitment and outreach to encourage racial/ethnic minority students to apply
Enhanced recruitment and additional consideration for community college transfers
Targeted recruitment and outreach to encourage low-income and/or first-generation students to apply

Despite wide media and research attention, the least widely used strategies include.

Reduced emphasis on legacy admissions
Test-optional admissions
Percentage plans

Are summer bridge programs an effective support for racial and ethnic diversity?

One particularly promising diversity strategy is the summer bridge program. Eighty percent of more selective public institutions and 61 percent of all institutions in our study say they have data indicating summer bridge programs are effective supports for racial and ethnic diversity.

More selective public public institutions

80% Say YES

All institutions

61% Say YES

Key takeaway #2:

Supporting racial and ethnic diversity is not an “either-or” but a “both-and” proposition.

Widely Used Diversity Strategies Among Institutions that Consider Race

The institutions in our study that consider race in admissions decisions use other race-conscious and race-neutral diversity strategies more often and find them more effective than institutions that use race-neutral strategies alone.

Holistic application review


Targeted recruitment—racial/ethnic minorities


Targeted yield initiatives—racial/ethnic minorities


Targeted recruitment—low SES/first-generation


Targeted yield initiatives—low SES/first-generation


Key takeaway #3:

Reactions to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court Fisher decision are still evolving.

Post-Fisher changes in admissions factors

Institutions that consider race in admissions have made only modest changes in admissions factors and diversity strategies since Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. Most of the post-Fisher changes involved the pursuit of diversity strategies. Institutions were most likely to increase their emphasis on recruiting community college transfers (23 percent of institutions) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students (22 percent).

If you cannot view the graphic below, read a text version.

Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape was authored by

Dr. Lorelle L. Espinosa

Assistant Vice President, Center for Policy Research and Strategy, American Council on Education


Dr. Matthew Gaertner

Senior Research Scientist, Center for College & Career Success, Pearson


Dr. Gary Orfield

Distinguished Research Professor and Co-Director, The Civil Rights Project, University of California, Los Angeles

This research was made possible by the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy in Partnership with The Civil Rights Project at UCLA and the Center for College & Career Success in Pearson’s Research & Innovation Network, and with support from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, American Associate of College Registrars and Admissions Officers, the College Board, and EducationCounsel.

Review additional report takeaways

Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape catalogues innovative strategies and leading practices implemented by institutions that have the ability to consider, as well as those that have been forced to adapt to, race-blind admissions requirements.

Read the full report

Learn more about why diversity matters 

Race, Class, and College Access

Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape

Post-Fisher Changes in Admissions Factors

SES disadvantage: 11% increased
International diversity: 9% increased
Ability to pay: 8% increased
Letters of recommendation: 7% increased
U.S. or state geographic diversity: 7% increased
Overcoming adversity / grit: 6% increased
Leadership, activities, work: 1% decreased and 6% increased
Pre-college enrichment program: 1% decreased and 5% increased
Essay or personal statement: 5% increased
Class rank: 2% decreased and 2% increased
Admissions interview: 1% decreased and 2% increased
High school academic reputation: 2% increased
AP/IB/SAT II assessment scores: 2% increased
Child of alumni or faculty: 1% decreased and 1% increased
Anticipated choice of major: 1% decreased and 1% increased
Grades in college prep courses: no change
Strength of high school curriculum: no change
Cumulative GPA: 1% decreased
SAT/ACT score: 3% decreased
Race/ethnicity: 3% decreased

This is a text-based representation of the graph from the Race, class, and college access report summary.