Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

Education Department Reverses Obama-era Guidance on Diversity in Admissions

July 05, 2018


​The Trump administration on July 3 rescinded a number of Obama-era guidance documents that outlined how colleges and universities can consider race as a factor in diversifying their campuses, a move ACE President Ted Mitchell said sent “precisely the wrong message to institutions that are committed to following four decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

The “Dear Colleague” letter reverses seven Obama administration policy guidelines pertaining to elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education, which the Trump administration believes “advocate policy preferences and positions beyond the requirements of the Constitution.”

The Departments of Justice and Education in 2011 released​ two guidance documents detailing the flexibility the Supreme Court has provided to colleges and universities to promote diversity on campus. That guidance, informed by Supreme Court decisions, described how institutions may appropriately take race into account in admissions, pipeline programs, recruitment, and support programs such as mentoring and tutoring as efforts to achieve diversity.

The Obama administration elaborated on the issue in 2013 after the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. The University of Texas (Fisher I), and again in 2016 after the high court reheard the Fisher case.  

The Trump administration’s decision this week returns the government’s official stance to the race-neutral policies of the George W. Bush era, issued in 2008. 

Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel at ACE, told The Washing​ton Post that he doubted colleges and universities would change their admission policies based solely on announcement. He pointed out that administrative guidance does not carry the legal weight of court rulings or congressional laws. But, he added, the action could have a chilling effect on colleges as they review their admission methods. 

“The message—but not the law—could be that if you take race into account or ethnicity into account as one of the several factors in your review process, you’re going to be challenged.”

As a number of news outlets reported, the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy at the end of this month will leave the Supreme Court without its swing vote on diversity in admissions policies. These policies have now been in effect for four decades: This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s first decision in this arena, Bakke v. University of California

“Colleges and universities that consider race and ethnicity as one factor in a holistic admissions review are committed to following the law of the land,” Ted Mitchell said​. “And make no mistake, this is the law of the land. Today’s announcement does not change that.” 

Other ACE News

  • September 20, 2018

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    WBUR reports that leaders in higher education, including ACE’s Terry Hartle, lobbed criticisms at Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez over his proposal to tax colleges and universities with large endowments . . . Inside Higher Ed...

  • ACE Annual Meeting

    September 19, 2018

    ACE2019 Image

    Register Now for ACE2019

    Registration is open for ACE2019, ACE’s 101st Annual Meeting, March 9-12, 2019, in Philadelphia, PA.Nearly 2,000 college and university leaders from deans to presidents will gather at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown for the nation’s most...

  • Student Mobility

    September 18, 2018

    Fees for Student and Exchange Visitor Program Set to Increase

    The proposal to increase programs fees for the Student and Exchange Visitor Program may have a negative impact on international students, scholars, and higher education institutions, according to ACE and 14 other higher education associations.

  • Innovative Practices

    September 17, 2018

    Innovative Leadership

    College Presidents Finding New Ways to Lead Amid Growing Challenges

    A newly released ACE report highlights how innovative college and university presidents are rising to a variety of daily challenges and empowering their own campuses to take risks and respond strategically.

  • Budget and Appropriations

    September 17, 2018

    Stairs leading up

    Spending Package for FY 2019 Includes Boosts for Pell Grants, NIH, Career and Technical Education

    Congress has reached an agreement on an appropriations package for FY 2019 that includes a $100 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award and a $2 billion boost in funding for the National Institutes of Health, among other priorities for higher...


 Related Content