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Posted by on Apr 25, 2014 in Education | 5 comments

Supreme Court Allows Affirmative-Action Ban in Higher Education

higher education

Do you think race alone should be part of what determines whether you get into college? If you don’t, the Supreme Court agrees with you. Earlier this week, it upheld the 2006 Michigan decision which stated race could not be required as a determining factor in college admissions. In the Michigan higher-education system, this signifies the end of controversial affirmative-action policies, which give preference to applicants who are ethnic minorities.

Affirmative action is an often-debated policy in our country. Decades after the Civil Rights movement, racism still persists, and affirmative action is one method of combating bigotry. On the other hand, some people say affirmative action is unfair, as it allows students with lesser qualifications in racial minorities to be admitted over white students with higher credentials. Whether or not you agree with affirmative action in higher education, here are some of the reasons why the Supreme Court ruled the way it did, as well as how the ruling may affect higher education.

It’s the State’s Decision

The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the ban in a 6-2 decision, with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg voting against it. Justice Sotomayor was passionately against the decision and wrote the longest dissent of her career. Having seen the benefits of affirmative action firsthand, she feels is absolutely necessary for giving minorities a fair shot at higher education.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in speaking for the majority, said the decision was not so much about whether affirmative action is a good thing, but rather who decides it should be required. Other than cases involving intentional discrimination, he believes laws affecting minorities should be decided by voters. Justice Elena Kagan excused herself from voting, probably because she had previously been involved with the case.

Fewer Minorities in Top Schools

Michigan is not the first state to end affirmative action in college admissions. Public universities in Florida and California also do not require race be considered as part of the admission decision. In both states, fewer African-American and Hispanic students have enrolled at top universities after affirmative action was banned. Texas also ended affirmative action in colleges in 1997, but reimplemented the policy in 2005 after minority enrollment went down. In Michigan, too, the number of African-American students at the state’s flagship school has decreased since the elimination of affirmative action.

Preference Given to Economically Disadvantaged Students

Part of the reason people are against affirmative action in higher education is that it only solves part of the problem. Most people would agree that disadvantaged students deserve a fair shot at education, but race alone is not the best measure of adversity. Some say that rather than taking race into account, admissions officers should give more weight to those with a lower socioeconomic status and first-generation college students. This would help all students, regardless of race, who did not have many opportunities growing up. For example, a white student who grew up in poverty and whose parents were in and out of cocaine rehab for most of his childhood would receive preference over applicants with more privileged upbringings.

A Closer Look at Other Admissions Considerations

One effect of Michigan doing away with affirmative action may be that other discriminatory admissions practices could come under fire.  It’s important to note that race is not the only thing admissions officers consider besides grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and personality. An applicant’s home state and legacy status are also considered, even though they have no bearing on a student’s academic performance. People have long complained these criteria are unfair. In light of the ban on affirmative action, it’s possible that colleges and universities could reconsider other practices.

A Better Approach to the Problem

One could argue that by the time minority students apply for college, it may be too late for them. In many instances, disadvantaged students do not even consider college due a lack of academic opportunities from an early age. Underprivileged students could be much more successful in school and in life if they were given the same opportunities as their peers in elementary, middle and high school. This is a difficult problem to address, as often opportunities come from one’s parents. Parents are the ones who drive their kids to soccer practice, remind them to do their homework and pay for music lessons. However, if the playing field were more even from an early age, you might see a lot more students from ethnic minorities in college.

Whether or not you not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision, what do you think is the best way to give minorities their best chance at higher education?

Image by Robert S. Donovan

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  • SteveK

    Do you think race alone should be part of what determines whether you get into college?

    Well, since: a) ‘Race alone’ prevented so many otherwise qualified individuals from attending for so long; and, b) There’s already evidence that ‘race alone’ is the motivation not only to keep minorities out of higher education (the first rung of financial success) but out of the voting booth too my answer is yes.

    Yes, race alone should be part of what determines whether you get into college.

    “Do you think race alone should be part of what determines whether you get into college?”

    I think in this first sentence “should be part of what determines” is actually the author admitting that, no matter what she says in the rest of the article, she (like anyone looking at the situation with open eyes) knows that ‘race alone’ has never been all it takes to get into college.

  • ShannonLeee

    A person, any person, should first have the minimum requirements that a student needs to be successful. There is no point in putting any student into a program where they will struggle greatly to just get by. Once that bar has been reached, I believe race should still be a factor.

  • There’s already evidence that ‘race alone’ is the motivation not only to keep minorities out of higher education (the first rung of financial success

    Being from California, maybe I missed that race alone thing. Please refresh my memory.

    1. The California Civil Rights Initiative or CCRI was passed in 1996. It “prohibits state governmental institutions from considering race, sex, or ethnicity, specifically in the areas of public employment, public contracting, and public education. Modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ..” (Wiki)
    The California State law forbids racial affirmative action in public university admissions.
    Here are racial percentages of freshman admissions at the University of California campuses in 1996 and then eighteen years later 2014:
    Asian American: 36.4% in 1996 // 36.2% in 2014
    Latino: 13.4% in 1996 // 28.8% in 2014
    White: 38.4% in 1996 // 26.8% in 2014
    African American: 3.7% in 1996 // 4.2% in 2014
    California came close to amending the CCRI this past year to allow for racial affirmative action, but the resistance, particularly from Asian Americans, was so strong it was removed and is no longer being considered.

  • SteveK

    Being from California, maybe I missed that race alone thing. Please refresh my memory.

    Being from California you and I both have probably missed a lot of it.

    My complete comment ’There’s already evidence that ‘race alone’ is the motivation not only to keep minorities out of higher education (the first rung of financial success) but out of the voting booth too I believe expresses better what I was trying to say… And I think you’d be more inclined to agree with it in principle.

    There is a large number of Red States who are already actively working to suppress minority voters… And to think that, after the green light to SCOTUS decision just gave them, they won’t treat ‘Affirmative Action’ the way they’re treating ‘Voters Rights is I believe a little over optimistic.

    They’re going to treat it as open season on the minorities because unlike California most of them have Republican Governors and Republican majorities in their legislatures. Unless the American people get out in November to vote these politicians trying to live in the past out of office… They’ll pull it off.

    Some people think what the Republicans are doing to suppress votes and tear out affirmative action laws is a good idea… And some of us don’t.

    We’ve the right to our views and positions but keep in mind we’re all judged by the company we keep too.

  • The Michigan vote in 2006 was quite similar to the California vote in 1996. Like many other topics, California will lead the way for the rest of the country that is ten to twenty years behind. By the time some states finally catch up, the browning of America will be much further along and whites will be a minority.

    I appreciate your feedback, Steve. I think Sotomayor is conflating different issues.

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