By Aedan Perry | March 27, 2023
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The current term of the Supreme Court is in full swing, and one pair of cases has been reported for its potential impact on College Admissions nationwide. Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina seek to end race-conscious admissions, commonly known as affirmative action, whereby admissions offices often use demography when making admissions decisions in order to build more diverse classes.
Despite the national attention paid to the issue, this case will actually have no impact on the admissions process at the University at Albany, according to Undergraduate Admissions Director Michael McKeon. UAlbany is not allowed to use demography as a consideration when selecting students at all. Instead, the Admissions Office focuses on student outreach to hone in on localities that have fewer resources.
“Inner City schools, for instance, can often afford fewer counselors than those with more resources,” McKeon explained, “and some of those counselors will prioritize college, but others will mainly focus on trade school and trying to discourage high-school dropouts.”
Because of this, the admissions office often tries to reach out to areas with fewer resources to seek out students who likely never would have applied, let alone attend a four-year university. In this way, they can seek out people from a variety of demographic backgrounds without that affecting their consideration of applications.
So how does UAlbany use the demographic backgrounds provided on applications? According to McKeon, it is often about finding valuable context for information found elsewhere in the application, particularly in the essay portion.
“Students often write about their hardships and interruptions in their lives.” McKeon said. “Why might a student have had an interruption?” Demography is used to understand other parts of the application, but not as a criterion for admissions.
The chief factor in admissions decisions, according to McKeon, is “Will you be successful, if given a chance? Essays are to understand your ability and motivations. A person can have all the ability in the world, but that doesn’t mean they have the motivation to succeed. Perhaps a family member died, or your house burned down. Maybe they are about a passion, as those demonstrate a clear motivation; All of these help us judge whether you will be successful.”
And student success is important for financial reasons as well. “UAlbany costs about 28,000 dollars a year,” McKeon said, “and if we weren't confident in you, we would be digging you into an economic hole that you would struggle to get out of.”
In none of this does demography come up as a deciding factor. “I am not aware of any SUNY school that considers race in admissions, and definitely not UAlbany,” McKeon said.
At the same time, UAlbany has been recognized as being an incredibly diverse campus, and McKeon attributes that to outreach efforts, as well as the SUNY system being focused on accessibility. What exactly sets it apart from schools like UNC and Harvard, who now find themselves at the center of the current lawsuits?
According to McKeon, some universities have been allowed to consider race to help fulfill their missions of cultural competence. UAlbany, however, doesn't have issues being diverse in part because they are not nearly as selective as UNC, Harvard, and other similar schools are.
“The SUNY system is built on accessibility,” McKeon said. Concerning schools that currently have a majority White student body, he said, “The current majority is only currently the majority, and birth and migration rates will wear away at that over time. UAlbany is already light years ahead of other schools, and will best be prepared for the coming demographic shift.”
As such, the decisions that could drastically affect admissions at many major universities – like UNC and Harvard – will have no effect here at UAlbany, which is one of the most diverse universities in the nation without needing to use a race-conscious admissions system.
“After all,” McKeon said, “we don't need to think up ways to have diversity – we already have it.”