The End of Affirmative Action and its Impact on College Admissions

Editor’s note: In late June, the U.S. Supreme Court made two wide-reaching decisions relating to affirmative action and student loan forgiveness. This is part one of a two-part series covering those decisions. 

On Thursday, June 29th, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled along ideological lines to effectively end race-conscious admission practices, also known as affirmative action, at colleges and universities. The case specifically concerned admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, but the decision will have far reaching effects that will impact every college and university across the country.  


For decades, colleges and universities have been able to consider race as one of the many characteristics in a student’s background (along with characteristics like geography, extracurricular achievements, etc.) for admissions, with the goal of ensuring a diverse student body. This use of affirmative action in college admissions had been upheld by the Court in two previous instances, in 2003 and 2016.  

In this case, Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina claiming that the schools discriminated against Asian American students who had “SAT and grade scores higher than any other racial group,” among other things, according to NPR. Ultimately, the Court ruled against the schools, overturning decades of precedent and ending affirmative action in college admissions. 

Impacts in California and Beyond 

The Supreme Court ruling will have immediate effects on private colleges and universities across California, as they will have to quickly change their admissions policies in order to maintain and improve diversity amongst their student bodies in the years to come.

However, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools have not been able to consider race in admissions for over two decades, thanks to a ballot measure passed in 1996 known as Proposition 209. This means that the UC and CSU schools will not have to change their admission policies in the wake of this Supreme Court decision and could instead serve as an example of how colleges and universities can work to diversify campuses without the ability to consider race. 

Since the passage of Proposition 209, the UC and CSU systems have taken steps to improve diversity on campuses, such as by considering the location of an applicant’s school, their socio-economic status, or student achievements relative to opportunities at the school. Private colleges and universities in California may look to adopt similar measures in their admissions practices.

However, in a brief submitted to the Court, the UC system acknowledged that it has still “failed to enroll a sufficiently diverse student body or one that is representative of the state’s demographics,” per EdSource. So, while schools can take steps to maintain diversity on campuses, the end of affirmative action will almost assuredly make college less attainable for families of color. 

The Road Ahead 

The full extent of the fallout from the ruling remains to be seen. While the decision will make college less accessible, there is work to be done to mitigate those barriers. Students and families should closely monitor and ask schools how they will be changing their admissions policies as a result of the decision.

PIQE remains committed to providing families with the resources and skills they need to support their children to and through a higher education and will continue to advocate that colleges be accessible for families of color. If your family has any questions or would like more information, please reach out to your local PIQE office.