Is affirmative action on its way out on college campuses?
While higher-ed affirmative action policies have been debated for decades, they could now be in jeopardy.
Why? Because it’s highly likely that a case filed by Abigail Fisher, a young white woman, who was rejected as an applicant at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, ends up being reviewed by the nation’s highest court.
The last time the Supreme Court reviewed affirmative action policies on college campuses was in 2003 when a murky decision upheld the continuation of racial preferences at public universities. The vote was 5-4 in favor and since then the court has grown much more conservative.
If you want to learn more about the legal case and what’s at stake, the Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times wrote a piece on the litigation recently:
If the Supreme Court takes the case as is widely expected, we could know in June what the fate of affirmative action at public universities will be. (Affirmative action practices would not be endangered at private schools.)
Would it be a bad thing if racial preferences were narrowed or banned? I don’t think it necessarily would be. Here’s why:
I believe it is extremely important that private and state colleges and universities be able to make it easier for low-income students of all racial backgrounds to attend. Many of these poor students are minorities, but plenty of white students also fall into that category.
Income-Based Admission Preferences
It doesn’t seem fair that getting into a prestigious college or university can be easier for a poor inner-city student, who is African-American or Hispanic, than a white student, who comes from an equally impoverished background. (I’m focusing on more elite colleges here because they represent an educational lottery ticket to low-income students, who could most benefit from excellent financial aid practices and access to superior educations. The odds against any low-income students of any ethnicity gaining admission to prestigious schools with top financial aid, however, has always been low. The teenagers who enjoy the greatest advantages have always been wealthy teenagers at both public and private institutions.)
Consequences of Racial Preferences
I have seen the consequences of schools employing racial preferences rather than income favoritism when I’ve helped students at my son’s old charter high school – High Tech High. The school attracts a hugely diverse group of students from all over San Diego County. There are kids, for instance, who live in nearby million-dollar houses and other teenagers from distant neighborhoods who can barely scrape up the bus fare to get to their school every day.
When I was giving college advice to low-income students at the school, I was always relieved when they had a minority hook. If their ethnicity wasn’t obvious, I’d just come out and ask what it was and cross my fingers that I heard the right answer. (By the way, state universities in California, because of a voter-approved proposition years ago, forbids them from taking race into consideration in admissions. California public universities, as well as those in Florida, Washington and some other states, are using financial means as one factor in admissions since racial preferences in their states have been outlawed.)
I always felt it was easier to recommend good private schools to low-income students who were minorities because I knew those schools needed to be able to say that certain percentages of their student body were black, Hispanic, Native American and even Asian. I was never as optimistic when I helped a poor white student who would have benefited from these same colleges. Poor students from Middle Eastern countries, Russia and elsewhere didn’t have that minority admission hook.
Should Rich Minority Students Enjoy an Advantage?
What I believe is equally discouraging is the practice of schools giving admission advantages to minority students who are affluent. I know students out here in Southern California, who are thrilled that they can check off the Hispanic box on their applications to private schools even though their ties to their culture are tenuous. Some of these kids joke that the only Spanish words they know are burrito, taquito and other menu items at Taco Bell.
Low-income students of all backgrounds could use an admission advantage when applying to colleges. What do you think? If you’ve got a thought please use the comment box below.