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End of affirmative action is impacting Missouri universities in some surprising ways

 A man wearing a blue suit gestures while talking at a microphone inside a radio studio. To his left, is a woman, also wearing blue, who is sitting at a microphone looking at him and listening.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Dr. Jim Burkee, left, president of Avila University, talks on KCUR's Up To Date with Dr. Sandra Cassady, president of Rockhurst University on July 25, 2023.

The U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended affirmative action in higher education last month. While many colleges in Missouri aren’t making significant changes to their admissions and scholarship processes, some university officials say it will impact diversity in higher education.

In a ruling from a six-judge conservative majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that colleges and universities cannot use race as a factor in their admissions.

Across the nation, public and private colleges expect the ruling to have major implications for their ability to achieving racial diversity through admissions. But not every school will see the same impact.

"There's a divide between colleges and universities that are selective and those that have a mission of access," Avila University president Jim Burkee told KCUR's Up To Date.

Around Kansas City, less selective institutions like Avila University, Lincoln University and Rockhurst University say that applicant race was already not considered as a factor in admissions.

But the Supreme Court's decision could still reverberate in other ways.

Diversity of faculty and staff could struggle

Burkee said one way universities could still see the impact is in the diversity of faculty and staff.

"It's going to impact the pool of people that are coming out of elite institutions with Ph.D.s who can serve on our faculties," Burkee said. "It's already an issue for us, and it is why at institutions like ours, a small fraction of our faculty... are faculty of color."

Burkee says that 53% of people at Avila University are students of color, which he attributed to the school's efforts to expand access to historically underserved communities.

Some say the role of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) could grow too, now that schools can't use race as a factor to achieve diversity. HBCUs have already seen an almost 30% increase in applications in the past few years.

Dr. Danisha Williams, the director of admissions at Lincoln University — an HBCU in Jefferson City — expects that trend to continue.

"We're hoping this will level the playing field in a way, as well as continue to attract students to an institution that has always been open to all students," Williams said.

Lincoln University has seen such an increase in applications that it's expanding campus housing and hiring additional adjunct faculty.

Scholarship criteria might change

While many schools in Missouri weren't using race as a factor in admissions, some were considering it for scholarships.

The University of Missouri System announced itwill no longer award scholarships that considered race, but will honor the ones it's already given out.

At Rockhurst University in Kansas City, president Sandra Cassady said it awards a few scholarships that could be affected as well.

"I think we have a few [scholarships] that say they want to support a student from underrepresented backgrounds or students who would be classified as minorities," Cassady said.

Burkee says it shouldn't be difficult to recruit and maintain diverse student bodies going forward.

"You've heard it from all three of us this morning," Burkee said. "We are all institutions that have it in our mission, in our blood to serve underserved communities in many ways. And so by working together and with a concerted effort to to lift up communities in need underserved communities, we will have an effect on the populations that would otherwise be referenced here."

  • Dr. Jim Burkee, President of Avila University
  • Dr. Sandra Cassady, President of Rockhurst University
  • Dr. Danisha Williams, Admissions director of Lincoln University in Jefferson City
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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