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Key Connecticut committee explores admissions without affirmative action

Students walk the grounds of University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut.
Jessica Hill
Students walk the grounds of University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut.

College application season is around the corner. This will be the first cycle since 1978 that bans the use of affirmative action — the practice of equitable consideration for racial groups who are disproportionately underrepresented in higher education.

In June, the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in a 6-3 decision. Chief Justice John Roberts said the practice lacked “sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race,” and involved racial stereotyping. Two cases were involved — one against Harvard University and the other University of North Carolina, which are the oldest private and public universities in the country, respectively.

In response to the changing process, members of the state Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee in Connecticut gathered Monday in a special forum outside of the regular legislative session to address challenges and innovations within the admissions process.

Advocates for equitable higher education practices pushed for innovations in schools’ admissions processes, worrying that colleges could fall short of exploring every applicant’s potential without race-conscious admissions built in.

Richard Sugarman runs Hartford Promise, a state college success and scholarship program. He said preferences in the application process still exist without affirmative action. Now, they’re just tilted towards those already favored, he said.

“Preference has not gone away with this affirmative action ruling,” Sugarman said. “It's only gone away for one population — students of color. Preference still continues to exist for the wealthy. Preference still continues to exist for legacy, still continues to exist for athletes.”

The forum was led by committee co-chairs State Sen. Derek Slap, and State Rep. Gregg Haddad. Also in attendance were representatives from the University of Connecticut, Yale University and Wesleyan University, as well as Hartford Promise affiliate Sivan Hines, alongside student representatives of the organization.

Even though affirmative action has been repealed, several members of the forum are working to find new ways to ensure Connecticut’s colleges and universities continue to support diverse educational communities.

Peter McDonough at the American Council on Education envisioned different methods of capturing the full picture of a potential student through a reinvigorated college application.

“There will be a lot of things that they can tease out of the application,” he said. He explained that students might feel compelled to include more about their background.

“There can be race informed experience, race informed hope for the future. But race as a factor is no longer able to be considered,” McDonough added.

But others warn that educational institutions do need to be careful of what they ask.

“Bottom line, we are dealing with a new legal landscape,” said Art Coleman, who co-founded the consulting firm EducationCounsel. “[There are] implications in various facets of enrollment policy and practice, certainly on admissions.”

Eda Uzunlar (she/her) is a reporter for WSHU.