Navigating the New Admission Landscape

By President Harry J. Elam, Jr. Photo by Marc Campos

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decisions on race-conscious admission practices, Occidental is committed to adhering to the cornerstones of its historic mission

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in two major cases that will significantly impact the ability of colleges and universities, including Occidental, to consider race as a factor in admission decisions.

In cases involving a private institution, Harvard University, and a highly regarded public institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the court ruled that race-conscious admission practices violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and harm some qualified applicants.

The rulings in the Harvard and UNC cases reverse decades of legal precedent and eliminate important tools that Occidental other institutions have relied upon to help diversify our student bodies and create richer learning environments for all students.

Even with the benefit of race-conscious admission practices, however, selective colleges and universities have struggled to build classes that reflect the true ethnic and racial composition of the country. These problems will not go away on their own, and we must now find new strategies to address the persistent issues of equity and access that plague higher education.

In the weeks following the Supreme Court decisions, dozens of alumni, students, parents, and friends reached out to me to discuss what these changes will look like for Oxy. Many expressed disappointment in the court’s rationale, while others called upon us to recognize and appreciate alternative perspectives. All agreed, however, that Oxy must continue to prioritize equity and justice and redouble its diversity efforts through other legally available means.

Let there be no doubt: Just as we will abide by the new legislation, we will continue to recruit talented students from a wide range of backgrounds, holistically review applicants, and consistently enroll a diverse, qualified and high-performing cohort of students.

Our commitment to Occidental’s historic mission, with its cornerstones of excellence, equity, community, and service, is unwavering. These are bedrock values of the College that will continue to guide us.

Though we are still evaluating the full impact of the court’s decisions, we have committed to a number of practices that will help us meet our mission amid this new landscape. We will:

  • Ensure that we are removing potential barriers to access for all students, by no longer considering students' alumni relationships as a factor in admissions decisions. This action solidifies our existing policy on what is known as “legacy admissions.” While we value the loyalty that comes from multi-generational attendance at Occidental, our holistic admission process will continue to carefully evaluate the whole student.
  • Continue our commitment to meeting 100 percent of domestic students’ demonstrated financial need, and we will promote our Cal Grant Promise program, introduced last year to increase affordability for low- and middle-income California residents.
  • Strengthen and expand our partnerships with community-based organizations dedicated to college access.
  • Broaden our outreach to Title I high schools—those in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment—and areas of the country where Occidental may be less well known.
  • Increase our efforts to build our veteran community by recruiting veterans locally and across the country.
  • Build upon our relationships with community college transfer centers, aiming to increase the number of community college students that apply and enroll at Occidental, ensuring we connect with students who come from different backgrounds and take varied paths to college.
  • Expand our fall fly-in program, giving students who would not otherwise be able to visit campus an opportunity to do so.

While we are committed to making necessary changes moving forward, no court decision can alter the fact that every student admitted to Occidental has earned their place here.

The entering Class of 2027 is no exception. This month, we will welcome one of the most diverse and academically qualified classes in recent memory. Each belongs at Occidental and will help the College grow and evolve. Their impressive and inspiring records of personal and academic achievement, representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences, will challenge and strengthen the College. We believe that these students will make a positive impact on our campus and in the world. 

In keeping with our history and mission, we remain committed to enabling the aspirations and achievements of these and future generations of diverse and talented students.