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Mississippi public universities to review admissions policies following U.S. Supreme Court ruling 



mississippi supreme court
(Photo by formulanone from Huntsville, United States - Mississippi State Supreme Court, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The governing board of Mississippi’s eight public universities will review its admission policies in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions.

Going forward, colleges and universities will only be able to consider race in the context of how it’s affected a potential student’s life, the court ruled. The decision, which concerned admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, is expected to make elite institutions less diverse.

It remains to be seen how the ruling will affect public universities in Mississippi, which have recently come under a microscope by the State Auditor’s Office for spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Alfred Rankins, the commissioner of Institutions of Higher Learning, said in a statement Thursday that the board of trustees will work with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office to determine if its admission policies, which are relatively open, are in compliance.

“We will review the Supreme Court’s ruling and our general undergraduate, graduate, and professional school admission policies to determine if any changes are needed to ensure compliance with federal law,” Rankins said.

The ruling, delivered by the Court on ideological lines, was decried by Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who noted that race-conscious admissions policies were an important way for universities to ensure historically marginalized students had “access the same educational opportunities available to their more privileged peers.”

It was celebrated by conservatives. On Twitter, Gov. Tate Reeves wrote that his office will “enthusiastically work to ensure that our universities across the state comply with both the letter and spirit of this decision.”

“Our academic institutions will be stronger and more fair because of it,” he added.

But it’s not clear that any institution of higher education in Mississippi considers race as a factor in admissions. In Mississippi, affirmative action was struck down in 1996 by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hopwood v. Texas, a case sometimes referred to as “the beginning of the end of affirmative action in higher education.”

None of the state’s top three public universities consider race as a factor in admissions, according to the Common Data Set.

In general, Mississippi’s public universities have open enrollment. Prospective undergraduate students are admitted if they meet a range of criteria such as completing certain college prep curricula with a minimum grade point average, or maintaining a 2.0 GPA and scoring an 18 or higher on the ACT, a cut-off that’s lower than the state’s average.

These across-the-board standards are rooted in changes IHL had to make in the aftermath of a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court called Ayers v. Fordice that found Mississippi was maintaining a separate-but-equal system of higher education, with the five predominately white institutions and the three historically Black institutions almost exactly divided by race.

The court ruled that ACT scores played a particular role in maintaining this segregation. In 1963, the year after James Meredith desegregated the University of Mississippi, that institution adopted a policy requiring a minimum ACT score of 15 as a requirement for admission along with Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.

“At the time, the average ACT score for white students was 18 and the average score for blacks was 7,” the court wrote.

As a result of the Ayers ruling, all eight universities adopted the same entrance requirements. The 2004 settlement went even further, though, requiring the three HBCUs to spend extra dollars recruiting non-Black students in order to unlock certain endowment funds.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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