In an official guidance issued by the Department of Education today, the Obama administration encouraged colleges and universities to continue to use race-conscious admissions policies to compose their incoming classes. The guidance is the administration’s first clarification to schools on how to proceed after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Fisher v. Texas this summer.

“The Departments of Education and Justice strongly support diversity in higher education,” the letter said. “Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation.  The future workforce of America must be able to transcend the boundaries of race, language, and culture as our economy becomes more globally interconnected.”

With its guidance, the Department of Education is trying to head off colleges’ skittishness about how to use race-conscious admissions policies after the Supreme Court essentially opened the door to future legal challenges this summer.

Schools may consider race as one of several factors if their admissions policy is “narrowly tailored to meet the compelling interest in diversity,” and if other race-neutral alternatives intended to produce diversity are inadequate, the Education Dept. reminded colleges. While successive challenges to affirmative action in higher education through the years have steadily chipped away at schools’ ability to take race into consideration, the Supreme Court still holds that schools still have to right to pursue a “diverse” student body. 

But the Roberts Court isn’t done with affirmative action just yet. It’s scheduled to hear arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, another higher education and affirmative action case, on October 15.

Read the Department of Education’s “questions and answers” document in full here (PDF).

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