Pundits are predicting that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon strike down the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and so colleges are wondering out loud: what comes next? How can they live up to their commitments to racially diverse campuses and programs if they’re not allowed to consider race as a factor in admissions or hiring?
In 1996, California voters passed a ban on affirmative action in public higher education – this moment could be an opportunity across the country to reimagine the systems we have and come up with something better.
At Calbright, we believe we’re demonstrating that this can be done.
Calbright is an experimental college – our mission is to reimagine every aspect of the higher education experience to make it better and more accessible to traditionally underserved populations. We are a free online community college that allows students to study at their own, flexible pace. We also have a far more diverse student body than most traditional colleges. Currently:
- 80% of our students identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (while a 2023 Education Dynamics report found that 70% of online undergraduate students are white)
- More than 90% of Calbright students are 25+ years old, or older (compared to about 40 percent of CCC students)
- 32% of our students are parents or caregivers (compared to approximately 10% across the CCC system)
We are succeeding in recruiting a diverse population of students – and we believe that our admissions process will be entirely unaffected by a potential Supreme Court ruling.
What approach are we using? It’s easy: we accept everyone.
Keep Admissions Simple And Open
Calbright absolutely markets itself to communities of color and traditionally disenfranchised populations, but our admissions process is as simple as we can possibly make it: we accept any adult Californian (of any immigration status) who has a high school diploma or equivalent.
That’s it. If someone meets those criteria and wants to study at Calbright, they can. For free. We take the logistical hurdles out of the equation and have a spot for everyone.
Instead of spending time and money developing systems to find the “right” students, Calbright uses its resources to accept more students.
This approach wouldn’t work the same way for most colleges – they have physical campus and space limitations while Calbright is entirely online. But Calbright’s success shows that the approach works: it is possible to have a more diverse campus by focusing on having a more open, less complicated, admissions process. The problem so many schools have recruiting and retaining diverse student bodies has nothing to do with affirmative action: it is because so many schools are trying to be “elite” rather than representative.
Diversity Matters In Education And The Economy
The need for increased diversity in college admissions is matched by the need for increased diversity in the economy. Research shows that the more traditionally disenfranchised populations are given access to good jobs, the more the economy grows for everyone. Getting more diverse students into college, helping them succeed, and helping the economy grow, are all important goals. Affirmative action has been an important tool to do that, and we support it.
But whatever the Supreme Court rules, affirmative action has not been enough, and we need to do better. At Calbright, we’re showing what that could look like.