Harvard's admission statistics reported that for the class of 2022, a total of 61,221 students applied while only 1,984 were admitted. Photo credit: Danilo Rios/Unsplash

Supreme Court rulings limit education equality, but fail to address legacy admissions in Ivy Leagues

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The Supreme Court recently made two decisions that will drastically impact the future of education as we know it, but organizations are fighting back. 

In June, the conservative-majority Supreme Court ended affirmative action for college enrollment, and struck down President Joe Biden’s plan to eliminate $430 billion of student loan debt forgiveness.

For the ruling concerning affirmative action, Justice Clarence Thomas, who benefited from affirmative action programs, opined that efforts to bring balance to predominantly white educational institutions such as Harvard and the University of North Carolina, were unconstitutional. In his agreement with the majority decision, he stated that affirmative action violated the color-blind efforts found in the 14th Amendment. A key piece of legislation, the 14th Amendment protected formerly enslaved persons who were now citizens from race-based programs or decisions. 

After the Supreme Court ruling to end affirmative action for college admissions, the highest court in the United States invalidated the Biden-Harris student loan debt relief plan.

In the opinion of the court Justice John Roberts wrote that “Congress opted to make debt forgiveness available only in a few particular exigent circumstances” to loan borrowers, but the Biden-Harris Administration offered it to the majority of those who took out educational loans. This plan, in his opinion, could not be authorized, even by the POTUS. Moreover, it would risk the financial health of states that relied on student loan repayments.

Incidentally, Lawyers for Civil Rights fired a return shot in order to ensure an equal playing field when it comes to college admissions following the Supreme Court’s rulings.

Michael A. Kippens along with fellow attorneys Oren M. Sellstrom, and Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, filed a Federal Civil Rights complaint that caused the U.S. Department of Education to open up a federal investigation that will examine Harvard’s Legacy Admissions practices.The complaint filed on behalf of Chica Project, African Community Economic Development of New England, and Greater Boston Latino Network cited that Harvard Legacy Admissions “grants special preference in its admissions process to hundreds of mostly white students,” simply because a relative once attended the Ivy League institution.

Harvard’s legacy admissions overwhelmingly benefit white applicants to the detriment of applicants of color to a great degree. “About 70 percent of the applicants who are admitted through these preferences are white,” Michael Kippins, Litigation Fellow of Lawyers for Civil Rights told Ark Republic.

“We at Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal civil rights complaint under title six of the civil rights act of 1964 because it prohibits organizations and programs from discriminating on the basis of race if they receive federal funding,” stated Kippins. 

“I think what we’ve seen from the Supreme Court has been a narrowing of the use of race in higher education admissions,” shared Kippins, Litigation Fellow with Lawyers for Civil Rights who led the charge in filing a complaint against Harvard, challenging their admissions preferences for people related to donors and alumni.

On the other hand, this is a case of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. While Justice Clarence Thomas is calling affirmative action for college admissions unconstitutional, Harvard University gives preferential treatment to white students. The Harvard Legacy Admissions selection method heavily relies on family histories, which had been around since the 1920s.

“In terms of the affirmative action case, schools and universities [that] use race as a factor, decrease diversity on campus, and what we are encouraging others to do is to ensure that does not happen,” stated Kippins.

On the other side of the aisle, there is a potential glimmer of a silver lining according to CEO of Keleidoscope Multimedia, and Founder of PlayTime Worldwide and Pens of Power,  Kel Spencer. Although the recent Supreme Court decisions “sent a shock through newswires, social media feeds and households nationwide…there is indeed an opportunity for a shift in favor of the HBCU brand and to [an] even higher standard,” the Morgan State University Alumn told Ark Republic.

“Breathing new life into the idea of the HBCU experience and, or rebranding select HBCUs, the Ivy League schools of the HBCU sector can make this dynamic more attractive to those who may now be detracted by the new hurdles in admissions,” observed Spencer.

Conversely, students who are saddled with student loan debt and witnessed the Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin by blocking President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, may have a hard time seeing the silver lining in all of this.

The Biden-Harris Administration have released several programs assisting those in student loan debt forgiveness. Photo credit: Alexander Grey/Unsplash

Taking another stab at student loan forgiveness

“This far right, extremist, imbalanced Supreme Court which seeks to make history for all the wrong reasons…have all but eliminated any boots or straps to social and economic mobility,” described Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).

To countermeasure the court’s decision, Young Invincibles, a young adult research and advocacy group made it very clear to President Biden that he should act accordingly with alternatives if the Supreme Court banned his student loan forgiveness plan. As part of this directive, President Biden requested that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona begin a process under a law referred to as the Higher Education Act in which loans can be negotiated, waived or released for about 40 million students for loan debt relief. 

“We know that this is also legally sound, just as the original plan was. But this is not the end all be all, or is it the silver bullet,” stated Young Invincibles’ Director of Higher Education and Workforce Policy Satra Taylor. 

The Court’s ruling was a gut-punching blow to students who had faith in the Biden-Harris Administration’s student debt relief plan to provide up to $20,000 in student loan debt forgiveness. The cancellation would have brought relief to more than 40 million student borrowers. Unfortunately, the fight to reduce student loan debt will now require a longer process according to Taylor. Whereas, President Biden’s original plan would have been much more seamless. Regrettably, “the Administration was not quick enough.”

With the Supreme Court’s decision, everything is back on the table now for the Young Invincibles. “With [the] negotiating rule-making comment period which ended on July 20th, we emphasized that President Biden needs to go back to our original ask of 50 thousand dollars in student loan debt.”

In brief, negotiating rulemaking is a process that involves amending, repealing, or creating an administrative regulation. Typically, the process involves informal rulemaking, where the public can offer written input during a comment period.

“We believe [this] would actually significantly reduce the racial wealth gap, especially for Black and Latinx borrowers who are disproportionately impacted,” said Taylor.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision is not the one they were hoping for, the Young Invincibles plan to continue to urge the Biden Administration to act swiftly and seek out ways they can support borrowers due to payments going back into effect on October 1st. But they are pleased to see that President Biden is still committed to debt cancellation, as per Taylor.

“He could have just blamed it on the Supreme Court and kept it moving,” Taylor pointed out.

One thing is certain. The Supreme Court’s vision for higher education in the United States is starkly different from the vision of the Biden-Harris Administration, the Young Invincibles, and Lawyers for Civil Rights. 

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The future of education

Because of the decision-making of the Court, education could look very different in this country in the near future. As news about the denial of student loan relief spreads like wildfire, soon-to-be college students are beginning to have doubts about the debt associated with attending institutions of higher learning.

“We don’t know how young adults, especially youth who are now high school seniors [and] juniors will react to this. But I can definitely say we’re seeing a decline in college enrollment and when you ask students what’s going on, debt and the high rising college costs are both issues that are concerning young adults,” stated Taylor.

The Director of Higher Education and Workforce Policy, recalls going to college and having no idea what she was doing. Taylor came from a low-income family and was told that to help her family climb out of oppression, she would have to be the one to go to college.

“Now that I’m out of it, I realize similar to other graduates that I needed more credentials. So a bachelor’s degree actually was not enough because of different workforce discrimination,” recounted Taylor. “And truth be told, even when I got my master’s degree, I could only get an internship.”

Moreover, Taylor remembers when she finally entered the workforce in her field as a Higher Ed Policy Analyst. There, she was continuously reminded how her peers saw her in that space: a Black woman without Ph.D. credentials.

“When it comes to director level positions, Black and Brown folks from low-income backgrounds have to have these credentials in workspaces. But we have a higher education financing system that requires them to take out loans to finance their education,” expressed Taylor.

Many people are thinking about how they can be an entrepreneur and how they can get away with acquiring economic mobility without going to college “and truth be told they’re getting creative,” shared Taylor. By entertaining the masses on social networking sites such as TikTok, people are using the internet to make money, and some of them are making a killing.

“I think it will continue and if Higher Ed does not get a grapple on these high tuition costs and this student debt, we’re going to see a drastic change in the higher education landscape.”

On the other hand, Kippins believes it is hard to predict the future of college enrollment. “What we hope is that it will not decline. We are encouraged by the Department of Education opening up the investigation into Harvard’s admissions practices.”

It is a significant step in the right direction according to the Litigation Fellow. “We also know that since we have filed the federal civil rights complaint to the Department of Education, schools have come forward and voluntarily chosen to eliminate their donor and legacy preference,” observed Kippins.

“So we’re seeing a shift in momentum towards this practice without being forced to eliminate these preferences and Harvard has the same choice.” 

What is certain according to Kippins is that we will see universities including Harvard reassess what their admissions processes are going to look like.

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While the future remains to be seen, some actions can be taken right now to fight the powers that be. Signing up for campaigns such as Get Out the Student Vote and Degrees without Debt, can make a significant difference. The former aims to ensure students across the nation make their voices heard during political elections, while the latter  focuses on ways to eliminate debt incurred by students who acquire degrees.

Additionally supporting education equality efforts is the NAACP’s $50K & Beyond campaign. The initiative also advocates for the automatic cancellation of a minimum of 50

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

thousand dollars in student loan debt, another excellent way to inspire change.

Getting involved in the above will ensure the likelihood that people of color will have a foothold in higher education hereafter.

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