Spring 2024 Bulletin

Leading for a Future of Higher Education Equity

Lywana Dorzilor
Against a background of blue sky with scattered clouds, four graduates raise their hands into the air. Two hold diplomas, and one holds a graduation cap. The hands represent a mix of skin tones.
Illustrations by iStock.com/Anastasia Zimina (graduates) and iStock.com/DoggieMonkey (sky background).

By Lywana Dorzilor, Program Coordinator for Education at the Academy

In light of the 2023 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and v. University of North Carolina, which bans the consideration of applicants’ racial status in admissions decision-making, the Academy’s Education program area engaged senior leaders of Affiliate institutions with the goal of supporting these leaders’ commitments to equity in higher education. Kim Wilcox (chancellor of the University of California, Riverside) and Academy member Joanne Berger-Sweeney (president of Trinity College) cochaired this initiative. To broaden the reach and impact of this work, the Academy also partnered with the American Council on Education (ACE) and with EducationCounsel. The aim of this project was to create responsive strategies for institutions as they navigate this new legal environment so that they can continue working to expand equitable opportunities to students throughout the U.S. system of higher education.

Prior to the Court’s ruling in June 2023, the Academy hosted several virtual convenings. These virtual sessions brought institutional leaders together to discuss ways to prepare their campuses and identify best practices to address the upcoming decision and shift away from affirmative action policies in higher education. 

In August 2023, following the Court’s ruling, the Academy hosted an exploratory meeting that convened more than forty university presidents, provosts, senior administrators, and experts to discuss effective policies and strategies for how to build an equitable and diverse higher education system.

The two-day event was filled with lively discussions about the challenges and successes of working toward more equitable campuses. The attendees discussed how universities have historically failed America’s most marginalized students; received a briefing on the current legal context; shared how to best make the case for equity in admissions processes and beyond to different audiences and stakeholders; and, most importantly, highlighted best practices that can aid in the goal of continuing to make higher education a more equitable space. 

In April 2024, the Academy published a summary that highlights the strategies, recommendations, and approaches identified by the meeting participants that would help leaders across higher education move their institutions forward for the success of their students and society at large. These themes include centering equity throughout campus; uniting committed and collaborative university leaders for systemic change; communicating the value of equity to constituents; fostering community partnerships; and highlighting and funding the valuable expertise and contributions of Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). One attendee stressed that it is imperative that universities adopt an “and not or” mindset and emphasized that full systemic change is necessary and not optional, even when leaders face direct challenges to their institutions’ missions of equity in higher education. 

The Academy is grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Mellon Foundation for their support, interest, commitment, and active participation in this project.

The meeting summary and more information about the project may be found on the Academy’s website.