As a society, how do we make sure every young American has equal access to a high quality college education?
Earlier this week, a leaked document from the Trump Justice Department revealed plans to pursue “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.” The target: cut affirmative action. Or as some in the Trump administration frame it, eliminate college admissions policies that discriminate against white people. The problem: colleges can only serve a finite number of students, and as colleges prioritize different skills and qualities, including cultural competence and diversity of experience, some white students who did better on tests, for example, may find themselves rejected.
The Supreme Court has ruled that colleges may not have racially based quotas or point systems. However, they may use race as one factor among many with the goal of furthering schools’ larger missions of having diverse student bodies. In other words, the language used by the Supreme Court allows college admissions processes to consider diversity of experience and background when assembling a class.
Race-based affirmative action has a complicated and tumultuous history in the United States educational system. In a country where racism has systematically excluded some families of color from neighborhoods with good schools and good economic opportunities, the children of those families, regardless of their potential, often have more limited opportunities to develop the kinds of academic skills captured on traditional and more narrow metrics of quality, such as test scores. Affirmative action has sought to address these imbalances by leveling the playing field.
What’s more, due to patterns of segregation in housing, some secondary schools are now as segregated as they were pre Brown vs. Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court Case which supposedly ended school segregation by labeling it as unconstitutional. The UCLA’s Civil Rights Project in 2016 notes that “Since 1970, the public school enrollment has increased in size and transformed in racial composition. Intensely segregated nonwhite schools with zero to 10% white enrollment have more than tripled in this most recent 25-year period for which we have data, a period deeply influenced by major Supreme Court decisions (spanning from 1991 to 2007) that limited desegregation policy.”
The prosperity of our nation, however, depends on each American having a fair shot at the education necessary to get good jobs. A look at the upper tiers of any organization or government body, however, reveals that we have far from reached equality in the work force.
By choosing admissions metrics that recognize and reward a diverse set of students, and by giving a child from a historically disadvantaged background a chance at college, the logic goes, we give that child more opportunities down the road, particularly when it comes to starting a career. What’s more, an educated parent can more easily educate his or her children, with more opportunities.
Affirmative action policies recognize that a strong university class reflects the community from which it is drawn, and that not all that matters to greatness is captured in standardized entrance metrics.
What is your vision of a just college admissions process? How do we make sure every child has a fair chance to take it in hand? Do you believe that we should level the playing field? Do you think that suing colleges that ensure their student body is diverse is detrimental to our society? Given other priorities, should the Trump Administration Justice Department be spending its resources on dismantling affirmative action?
If you believe in Affirmative action, please look below for actions that you can take.
If you disagree with our stance on this, please leave a comment below. We are here to encourage discussion, and would love to feature alternative views.
Do you need more information before you decide where you stand? Here are a few articles from both sides of the debate: