This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
By the beginning of summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case challenging the legality of a race-based affirmative action program at the University of Texas at Austin. The decision will likely affect colleges across the U.S., and, as a first generation college student, you might be affected, too.
Experts are predicting that the court’s ruling in Fisher v. Texas will eliminate or significantly limit colleges’ ability to consider race and ethnicity in admissions. A ruling like this could initially cause diversity on college campuses to drop, as institutions lose the ability to target students based on race/ethnicity. However, there is a silver lining: If the Supreme Court rejects race-based affirmative action, colleges will have the opportunity, if they act wisely, to beef up programs that consider socioeconomic status when recruiting, admitting, offering scholarships and supporting students.
This is where you come in. Increased consideration of socioeconomic status—which is measured using factors such as your family’s income, your parents’ level of education and what high school you attended—is good news for first generation college students. It’s also good news for colleges, as these programs have the potential to create both socioeconomic and racial/ethnic diversity.
We have seen this shift toward diversity initiatives that consider socioeconomic status rather than race/ethnicity in states where race-based affirmative action has already been banned. Richard Kahlenberg and I highlighted some of these programs in a recent Century Foundation report. Texas, California and Florida each have “Percent Plans” that guarantee admission to state universities for students graduating within a certain top percentage of their high school class. While these programs guarantee admission to wealthy suburban valedictorians, they also open the door to top graduates from under-resourced high schools.
Public universities in a number of states, including California, Texas, Florida, Michigan and Washington, have also included questions in their applications which assess students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. When evaluating applications, admissions officers consider the opportunities that were available to each student and the obstacles that each student has overcome.
Some universities also provide financial aid and support programs specifically for low-income and first generation students. At the University of Florida, the Florida Opportunity Scholar Program offers full scholarships to first-generation freshmen from low-income families and also provides these students with special orientation sessions, peer mentoring and a leadership seminar for upperclassmen. The University of Arizona and the University of Nebraska have similar programs to name just a few.
As a first generation college student, you should keep an eye on what happens in Fisher v. Texas. The Supreme Court ruling could push colleges toward a greater focus on socioeconomic status in their diversity initiatives, which would result in more services specifically designed for first generation and low-income students. In the meantime, keep in mind that many colleges, like the ones mentioned above, already offer admissions, financial aid and support programs specifically designed to benefit students like you.