The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, June 29, that affirmative action practices within college admissions were unconstitutional in a 6-3 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
A lawsuit spurred by Students for Fair Admission — a nonprofit organization of more than 20,000 members made up of students, parents and supporters — said “racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional” on their website, and sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over their admissions policies.
“A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university,” their website says.
Roberts, writing in part, said, “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it. And the Equal Protection Clause, we have accordingly held, applies ‘without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality’ — it is “universal in [its] application.’”
Colleges and universities as a result must reshape admissions practices, with many committing to finding alternate ways to maintain diversity on college campuses.
University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans issued a statement in response to the case, saying his team was reviewing the decision but will follow the law.
“Our public universities do extraordinary work every day to serve students of all backgrounds, beliefs, income levels and life experiences,” Hans said. “ … The most important work of higher education is not in deciding how to allocate limited admissions slots at highly competitive schools, but in reaching and encouraging more students to take advantage of our 16 remarkable public universities.”
In the days following the decision, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz authored a letter about the decision.
The chancellor began by saying that the ruling marked a fundamental change and will affect thousands of universities.
“We will follow the Supreme Court’s decision in all respects,” the letter begins. “That means race will not be a factor in admissions decisions at the University. It also means we will comply with the Court’s ruling that an applicant’s lived racial experience cannot be credited as ‘race for race’s sake,’ but instead under some circumstances may illuminate an individual’s character and contributions.”
He said the changes will expand opportunity to people of the state.
“First, Carolina will provide free tuition and required fees for incoming undergraduates from North Carolina whose families make less than $80,000 per year. Beginning with the incoming class in 2024, we will expand the University’s long-standing commitment to access and affordability for North Carolina families,” Guskiewicz wrote, saying it broadens a tradition in line with other programs.
He also said the university will hire additional outreach officers as part of the admissions team serving in “under-resourced communities” to spread awareness of the affordability efforts and recruit students from across North Carolina.
“We want the best students to know that a UNC-Chapel Hill education is a possibility for them,” he added.
In 2023, tuition and fees for full time in-state students was approximately $9,000 per year.