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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