The State of DEI in Higher Education

Between the Supreme Court’s recent decision to end affirmative action and race-conscious admissions practices at colleges and universities, along with the wave of anti-DEI legislation sweeping across almost half the country, nothing is certain except for the uncertain future of DEI in higher education.  

DEI Is Under Attack 

On June 29, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision effectively ended affirmative action programs at higher education institutions around the country. According to supporters, these programs aimed to increase diversity among student bodies as well as level the playing field for minority students who do not have access to the same resources as their wealthy counterparts.  

According to critics, these policies were discriminatory against qualified students, and race should play no role in the college admissions process. But it’s important to note that affirmative action is not DEI, and even before last month’s ruling, diversity, equity, and inclusion policies were under attack.  

DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion and represents the policies that an organization implements to create a safer and fairer workplace. Affirmative action practices meant that colleges could use race as one of many factors when considering whether a student is accepted into a university or college.  

In total, almost half of the United States has seen at least one piece of anti-DEI legislation with 22 states introducing or passing laws that make DEI or certain related practices illegal. For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that bans colleges from allocating any funds to DEI programs. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott signed a similar bill that banned DEI and diversity training in the state. Other states such as the Carolinas, Ohio, Tennessee, North Dakota, and more have joined the fray, with more expected to follow suit soon.  


What’s Happening? 

Again, while DEI is not the same as affirmative action, the Supreme Court’s ruling to end the nearly 60-year practice only adds fuel to the fire for opposers of DEI. According to an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court believes that the systems in place “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives" to justify the use of race in college admissions and can end in racial stereotyping and bias.   

Within the last two weeks, schools such as the University of Arkansas, the University of Missouri, and the University of Kentucky have taken the ban on affirmative action one step further and announced an immediate end to their race-based scholarship programs. Many other schools are expected to do the same.  

On the other hand, states such as California, Colorado, Illinois, and New York have restated their strong commitments to DEI efforts, even in the higher education space. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, along with various other DEI supporters and democratic governors, called the decision to ban affirmative action a “travesty” and pledged that the state’s DEI efforts would not be stunted by the Supreme Court’s decision.  

The state of DEI in higher education is a complicated one that continues to be politicized. While many still believe in pioneering DEI efforts at colleges and universities and the benefits that they provide to the student body, others believe race should play no role in admissions. Experts believe, however, that this is only the beginning and expect more states and schools to also change, or entirely ban their DEI programs while others expand and protect it.  


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