Equal Protection Project v. Bismarck State College (North Dakota) – (Tuition Waiver Program Open Only to Students in Specific Racial Groups Challenged)

Case Particulars


Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education

Date Filed

October 23, 2023

Docket No.


Case Status

OCR Complaint Filed

Case Overview

Bismarck State College (BSC) offered a racially discriminatory tuition waiver program with the goal of reducing tuition for specific racial and ethnic groups and to encourage “enrollment of a culturally diverse student body for the benefit of all students and the academic community.”


In 2021, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education promulgated a policy that institutions of higher education in the state would be “encouraged” to “provide for … [a] waiver of tuition and fees …. to promote enrollment of a culturally diverse student body.” Based on this authority, BSC created, implemented and promoted a program called the Cultural Diversity Waiver that reduces eligible undergraduate students’ tuition by $1,250 per semester. To be eligible for the tuition reduction, students must be “African American/Black, Alaska Natives, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Latino/a/x, Multiracial, [or] Pacific Islander.” The CDW program is only available to non-white applicants.


Equal Protection Project is the Complainant in this matter, which is under evaluation by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.


Less than a month after EPP filed its Complaint, BSC changed the name of the program from the Cultural Diversity Waiver to the Pathway Waiver. The racial exclusion language was significantly, but not entirely, curtailed; currently, the eligible applicant pool includes students “from, but not limited to Indian tribes and economically disadvantaged students, for the benefit of all students and the academic community….”