The U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed the University of Texas at Austin's admissions program, which permits consideration of an applicant’s race as one of a number of factors in admissions decisions. Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion in the 4-3 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

The Court underscored that an educational institution may institute a race-conscious admissions program as a means of obtaining "the educational benefits that flow from student diversity," though such a program is subject to strict scrutiny. The Court noted that prior to the University of Texas adopting its current admissions program, the University engaged in a year-long study of the effectiveness of its use of race-neutral policies and programs. The Court found that in the absence of "available and workable" race-neutral alternatives, the University developed its current program, in which it conducts a holistic review of admissions applications.

In describing the "sensitive balance" that educational institutions face, the Court noted that "considerable deference is owed" to educational institutions in defining characteristics, like student diversity, that are central to institutions’ missions and identities. Despite this deference, the Court’s opinion makes clear that the constitutionality of admissions policies that consider race as a factor will be scrutinized closely. Educational institutions may wish to review current admissions policies in light of the Fisher decision.

Attorneys in Ballard Spahr's Higher Education Group regularly assist clients with compliance matters under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and related laws.

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