Colleges Revise Race-Conscious Scholarships

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Universities across the country are revising or ending certain financial aid criteria and scholarships in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 rulings against race-conscious admissions in higher education.

“Our colleges and universities are at their best when they reflect the rich diversity of our nation,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release on the anniversary of the court’s decision. “Last year, the Supreme Court reversed course on decades of precedent and sharply limited a vital tool that colleges used to create vibrant, diverse campus communities and expand access to higher education for students of color, who too often face inequities in our education system. The decision was a blow to the fight for equal opportunity and a more just, equitable country.”

Since the rulings, nearly 50 colleges and universities have paused, modified, or terminated race-conscious scholarships, totalling at least $45 million.

For instance, Duke University recently discontinued a long-standing scholarship that covered  tuition and housing for Black undergraduate students, valued at approximately $66,000 annually. The funds will be redirected to a new leadership program and need-based financial aid initiatives.

Similarly, The University of Iowa has revised the criteria for its Advantage Iowa Award, a program distributing over $9 million annually to support first-year students from historically marginalized communities. This change now allows White students, who were previously excluded, to also qualify for the award.

Officials at the University of Missouri system are revising eligibility criteria for $17.2 million in scholarships, both institutionally and through donor funding, originally designated for students from specific ethnic backgrounds. Critics argue that such scholarships disadvantage White students by favoring certain racial groups.

As universities navigate these shifts, some experts are concerned about the potential impact on college access and institutional diversity. Financial aid, including scholarships, plays a critical role in supporting students of color who often face economic barriers to higher education. Advocates caution that replacing race-based scholarships with income or first-generation status criteria may overlook persistent racial disparities in wealth and opportunity access.

Although universities are exploring alternative approaches to promote diversity, they must tread carefully to ensure compliance with evolving legal interpretations.