Should race be a factor in college admissions?


Fact Box

  • Affirmative action’ first began under the US federal government in the 1960s to “increase employment and educational opportunities for minority groups and women” who faced legal discrimination. Policies have provided opportunities that include job hiring, college admissions, government contracts, and other benefits.
  • The phrase ‘affirmative action’ entered US policy upon President John F. Kennedy signing in March 1961 Executive Order (EO) 10925 instructing federal contractors take 'affirmative action to ensure that applicants are treated equally without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
  • Congress later passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred segregation and discrimination. The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson updated the law (EO 11375) to include women as a protected class. 
  • In 2019, college enrollment rates among Asian students were 62%, White students were 41%, Black students were 37%, Hispanic students were 36%, and Native Americans were 24%. 
  • An October 2022 YouGov poll found that 54% of Americans agreed that “colleges and universities should not consider an applicant's race in order to further student body diversity in higher education.” A 2019 Pew poll recorded that 73% of respondents “across racial and ethnic groups say colleges should not consider race in admissions.”

Andrew (Yes)

Racial considerations through affirmative action in the college admissions process are the only way to ensure that minorities are represented equitably throughout colleges, according to Stella Flores, associate professor of higher education and public policy at the University of Texas at Austin. As the nation continues to increase in racial diversity, unfortunately, it continually becomes more segregated. Therefore, we must continue using the only effective strategy to ensure ethnic diversity is promoted throughout the college admissions process and represented on college campuses nationwide.

Just because society may pretend racism is in the past, making affirmative action no longer necessary, doesn’t mean it is. We are still seeing greater rates of disparity between racial groups in middle and high school scholastic performance. Much of this is due to the known effects of past racist policies, such as redlining, which have not allowed Black families to accumulate the same levels of generational wealth that White families have enjoyed. This contributes directly to opportunities afforded to students through parents’ financial abilities and indirectly through lower tax bases in Black communities leading to underfunding schools in predominantly Black communities. Affirmative action is critical in combating the effects of decades of inequality in employment, housing, and other opportunities. 

Finally, who we have in the college classroom matters because it later translates into who we have in leadership positions in business and government. Our society must have diversity at all levels of decision-making throughout our society, which means we must ensure diversity is present in college and university classrooms everywhere. We must have equality of outcome to ensure a diverse and prepared workforce can tackle the challenges facing all communities.

Luke (No)

The Constitution's 14th Amendment guarantees citizens have 'equal protection' in law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title VI later made racial discrimination by any recipient of federal financial assistance illegal. Including race as a factor in who is admitted into colleges, publicly funded or otherwise, is definitionally discriminatory, clearly violating legal protections of Americans.

It is likewise inherently unfair that universities select future students based on darker skin tones and minority social status while denying university entrance to those with higher academic accolades with a lower melanin count and different ethnic heritage. This racial discrimination guts meritocracy, harming everyone—including minority students. Favoring race quotas over academic ability hobbles those admitted by these lowered standards; many will find themselves unprepared for the inevitable challenge of university rigor. This 'mismatch effect' makes it so students admitted to schools 'where they would have otherwise not been considered had the school adopted a race-blind policy” are more likely to find themselves in the bottom 20% or as dropouts, having been set up to fail in the name of altruism.  

Dr. Thomas Sowell, an outspoken critic of affirmative action, echoes this line of reasoning, asserting that minority and underprivileged communities worldwide are harmed by the very programs designed to assist them. Universities are not the only path to success in America, but by putting a hand on the scale, academia keeps people from doing work best suited to their skills. A lopsided admissions process does more than merely misallocate the workforce—it completely diminishes the future accomplishments of all who benefitted from these admission policies, as their success is attributed to the received assistance rather than their hard work. Race-blind admissions are the correct course of action for American universities, as 'no person should be disadvantaged by the color of his or her skin, no matter how sincere the intentions of affirmative action proponents.'

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