Is Holistic Review Legal?

Broad-based diversity is an important interest for nursing schools and the health care community. Building diversity on campus—which can include, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, and gender—is a school-wide responsibility that cannot be delegated to the admissions office or diversity affairs personnel alone. Creating diversity in nursing education and the nursing workforce requires a coordinated effort in which administrators, faculty, students, and legal counsel are all engaged.

In general, the use of holistic review is legal under federal and state law. However, when race or ethnicity is used as a consideration in the holistic review process (or other enrollment decisions such as financial aid that provide tangible benefits), federal legal requirements will apply. In some cases, state law may place additional requirements upon the school.

In essence, federal legal requirements for nursing schools using race or ethnicity-conscious admission policies are:

1. The policy must be grounded in the nursing school’s evidence-based “compelling interest” in the educational benefits of diversity; and

2. The policy must be “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest. In order to do so, policies must be necessary and flexible, and must not place an undue burden on students who do not benefit from the consideration of race or ethnicity. To meet this requirement, policies must also be subject to periodic review.

For more information, and for state-specific legal considerations, please consult the resources below.


Legal Requirements for Institutions Using Race and Ethnicity-Conscious Policies [PDF]

How to Strengthen Diversity [HTML]

Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape [PDF]

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