Taking Action: A New Affirmative Approach

In the aftermath of last month’s Supreme Court decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, I want to share thoughts about the challenging new world we now inhabit, my organization’s (CFES Brilliant Pathways) place in it, and the plans we have for helping students and families successfully navigate this new landscape.

Make no mistake, this is a chilling decision with vast impact. It overturns decades of precedent and turns a blind eye to the inarguable societal benefits of earlier rulings that helped hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino students enjoy the social mobility and career potential that college degrees provide.

Reasons for Optimism

Against this backdrop, CFES offers reasons for optimism, as well as a proven blueprint for helping underserved youth access college and career opportunities. And, we advocate new strategies to transform the admissions process and overhaul an admissions system that wasn’t serving marginalized communities all that well to begin with.

America’s most selective schools, to which the Supreme Court ruling applies, were already, well, exclusive — as evidenced by the fact that children from families in the top 1 percent of earners are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League school than students from families making less than $30,000 a year.  And the ruling is likely to diminish Black and Latino applications at all schools, particularly if young people and their families believe the system is rigged against them.

The good news is that CFES Brilliant Pathways has an established track record reaching these communities, and a proud history of opening doors to college that have traditionally been closed. This has been accomplished providing CFES Scholars a solid foundation of preparedness, mentoring and exposure to opportunities that underserved youth historically have not enjoyed.  Young people must be primed to succeed before they fill out their first college application.

CFES is in a strong position to take a leadership role in helping students overcome obstacles to higher education. Over its 32-year history, CFES has helped more than 100,000 students attend college, and become career-ready, nearly half of whom are Black and Latino. Moving forward, we will expand this good work, and by 2035, we plan to engage 100,000 more underserved students. 

Need for Bold Action

This ambitious goal will require bold action!  We’ll partner with colleges, businesses and other nonprofits to help build pipelines to hundreds of CFES feeder schools in underserved communities. In addition to building pathways of opportunity, we’re appealing to colleges to significantly overhaul their admissions policies. Instead of relying on SAT scores, which tend to be more indicative of family income than aptitude, more equitable methods of evaluating applicants are a top priority and must be developed soon.

We suggest two new approaches for the college admissions process:

First, an “adversity quotient” — a measurement of the environmental and personal challenges an applicant has faced — should be part of every applicant’s profile. The adversity quotient would consider family income and geographic location, and also the personal hurdles disadvantaged students often face, such as physical or mental illness, family dynamics, lack of secondary school assistance, and time devoted to support siblings or other family members. This new measure would help level the playing field for students denied the advantages many affluent applicants take for granted.

Colleges should also develop tools for measuring essential skills such as goal-setting, teamwork, leadership, agility, networking, and perseverance. Over three decades, CFES has helped tens of thousands of students develop these competencies, which are highly accurate predictors of success, both in college and in life.

Ensuring College Success

Additionally, we need new strategies to help students succeed in college. CFES has already begun this work with Young Men of Talent (YMT), an innovative program now in the pilot stage at the University of Vermont. YMT provides Black and Latino males, who are most at risk of dropping out, with essential skills development, comprehensive mentoring, paid summer internships in career interest areas, and other support that will help them not just get into college but thrive once they arrive.

In the coming years, CFES will use its experience and knowledge to ensure that college and career readiness programs are truly inclusive — and that the vast swath of students of color and their families don’t feel the world has shut its doors on them. 

Let’s Build a Bridge Together

CFES intends to act as a bridge, guiding these students from the much-altered reality we face today to a new world of opportunity and hope. I can’t think of more important work.

CFES and its partners cannot build this bridge alone. We urgently need the intellectual, moral, and financial support of individuals, businesses, foundations and other organizations that want to send a resounding message of optimism and confidence to Black and Latino students that they are indeed welcome at American colleges and career preparation programs. Now we must act decisively to underwrite this new, affirmative approach! Please contact us if you or your organization are ready to help.

Rick Dalton, CEO and President, CFES Brilliant Pathways