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  • Writer's pictureMarybeth Gasman

How The Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Ruling Might Affect HBCUs

The Supreme Court handed down a decision on Thursday rejecting the use of race in college admissions. Although the majority of commentary has focused on the impact of the decision on Black and Brown students applying to historically white, highly selective institutions, the ruling could have an impact on the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well. How you might ask?

First, African American students who were planning to apply to highly selective colleges and universities, such as Harvard University, may decide to add more HBCUs to the mix of institutions to which they apply given the uncertain impact of the High Court’s “race neutral” ruling.

Second, if highly selective colleges and universities are benign in their reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision, African American students will certainly take notice and may not feel wanted — resulting in fewer applications to these institutions and perhaps more to HBCUs. Of course, more applications to HBCUs will result in higher enrollments and a need for additional state (if applicable) and federal financial resources to support these students.

Third, seeing the High Court’s declaration, HBCU leaders will more than likely speak to it, noting their disappointment but also stressing that African American students are wanted and valued at their institutions — further touting the quality of education and sense of belonging that HBCUs offer. Harry L. Williams, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an organization that supports public HBCUs, stated, “As the largest organization exclusively supporting the Black College Community, we invite allies to join us in our ambitious mission to create a more equitable society.”

He added, “Since their inception, HBCUs have always been agents of equity, opportunity, and excellence in education. Going forward, HBCUs will continue to serve as vehicles of upward mobility for their students, engines of economic growth for their respective communities and a locus of intellectual discourse and scholarship on issues ranging from genetic research to social justice.”

Fourth, given the growing number of laws and policies that are disadvantaging African Americans, prospective students along with their families may turn all their attention to HBCUs — increasing enrollment. Parents want to see their children protected and safe, especially when seeking knowledge and growth to ensure a successful future.

Fifth, if majority institutions are not able to do their share in addressing the legacy of segregation in the U.S. the burden will fall on HBCUs and according to many in HBCU communities, “HBCUs cannot redress the legacy of racism in higher education — nor should they be asked to.”

Sixth, HBCUs were established using a race-based approachas African Americans were systematically excluded from existing institutions of higher education in the U.S up to and well into the 20th Century. HBCUs were created because of the nation’s history of slavery, oppression, and discrimination. In the Supreme Court’s “race neutral” world, some in HBCU communities are worried that critics may begin asking if there is a place for HBCUs and the federal funding that supports them?

Lastly, given the potential negative impact of the High Court’s ruling on graduate and professional school enrollment, HBCUs will be compelled to create more of these programs so that African Americans have equitable access to advanced education. Without this access, African American communities will suffer from an even greater shortage of Black doctors, lawyers, pharmacist, faculty and scientists. HBCUs are already doing the lion’s share of workpreparing these professionals and will need more financial resources to carry additional weight.

In the words of Kent Wallace, a dean and physics professor at historically Black Fisk Universityin Nashville, Tennessee “The California University system never recovered from the drop in the number of underrepresented minorities’ when it abandoned affirmative action policies for college enrollment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is an indicator of the importance of HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions’ future role of producing our nation’s scientists, doctors, and engineers. We will answer the call...”

This article was originally published on Forbes.

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