Affirmative Action in College Admissions: Various views

October 16, 2020

When used separately, the words “affirmative” & “action” seem to be quite neutral. However, in a single phrase, they acquire quite a meaning. Affirmative action is a very arguable topic in the United States. It’s been 50 years already that people polarize when talking about it. And if we note the recent lawsuits against Harvard University, which have recently taken place, we can assume that affirmative action is causing even more arguments day after day.

If you have no idea what affirmative action is and how it is connected with college admissions, go ahead and find out in our comprehensive guide.

Defining Affirmative Action

In simple words, the term affirmative action means a policy, according to which skin color, nationality, sex, race, or religion of a person are bared in mind during the elimination process. It often happens during college admissions or employment procedures. And it is often decided in favor of those who have been earlier discriminated against or under-represented.

Affirmative action in college admissions results in accepting students with less strong grades and academic performance rather than applicants with good test scores, just because the former come from historically underrepresented places.
At the same time, for students from overrepresented groups, it is required to show higher performance to be accepted. Because of this unfair treatment, Asian-American students brought a lawsuit against Harvard University. They fought for fair admissions, as due to affirmative action, it became much more difficult to get in.

The Contradiction of Affirmative Action

The problem with this issue is that it creates a paradox – when the effort to create equality among various groups of people actually turns into discrimination for those who haven’t been discriminated before. Underrepresented groups are being treated differently nowadays, but all those privileges towards them expose others to difficulties.

In the New Yorker’s article “The Changing Meaning of Affirmative Action,” it is stated that the Constitution was amended and the laws were added to ensure that people of different races are not discriminated. And, at the same time, the government hasn’t enacted proper policies to ensure that people of color are not treated with more benefits than others. So, basically, to guarantee not only equal opportunities for all Americans but also equal outcomes, the race should be returned back to the equation.

Let’s Return to Historical Records of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

In 1978: In the case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, it was ruled by the court that race factor was allowable in admissions, while quotas for underrepresented minorities were not.

In 1995: For all the schools of the University of California, its Regents voted to surcease affirmative action based on ethnicity, race, origin, gender.

During 1996-1997: The admissions system of the University of Texas (which was race-based) was ruled as not constitutional. As a result, they developed a Top 10% Plan that ensured getting in for all high school students in Texas, whose grades were among the top 10% of their class.

In 2003: Barbara Grutter filed a suit against the University of Michigan Law School due to being rejected during admissions. She believed it was for the reason of her race (she is white), but the court found such admissions acceptable. This Grutter v. Bollinger case was followed by Gratz v. Bollinger case on the same day. Here, the University of Michigan was blamed for an unfair admissions system because it didn’t review applicants on an individual basis, but automatically gave points to underrepresented minorities.

In 2016: As a result of the Fisher v. University of Texas case, admissions based on race were considered constitutional at the University of Texas. And, though, the affirmative action was ended there before, after the Grutter v. Bollinger process, it was restored.

In 2014: Due to the case Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the constitutional amendment of Michigan’s state was supported by the court. That amendment prevented universities from holding admissions based on race.

In 2019: Harvard was accused of discrimination against Asians during college admissions. After all, The Federal District Court declared Harvard not guilty, explaining that no persuasive documentary proof was found of prejudice against those students.

Nowadays: Affirmative action is operating almost across all United States, except for 9 states – ID, Ca, WA, FL, MI, NE, AZ, NH, and OK, where it is banned after voting procedures or referendums. (In the case with Texas, where the affirmative action was previously banned, it was again re-implemented after the case “Grutter v. Bollinger” (2003).

Affirmative Action in College Admissions: Statistics

Generally, affirmative action takes a considerable place in the admissions procedures in various high educational establishments. According to the research of 2014, which was held by NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling), in 3.4% of colleges, race/ethnicity had a substantial impact on decisions, and in 11.1% of schools, it had medium influence.

However, the affirmative action still matters in college admissions of high-ranked nation’s institutions that are considered to be a transfer point from education to a successful career. For this reason, the following schools are often the matter of litigation: University of Michigan, Harvard University, University of Texas.

It is possible to understand the effect of affirmative action after this program has been closed down in 9 states. For instance, following California’s prohibition of race-based admissions, the percentage of minorities accepted to the top universities of the state went down massively – from 50 to 60%. At Berkeley University, for instance, the amount of Black and Hispanic freshmen reduced from 22% to 12%.

In 2015, some overwhelming figures were discovered from U.S. Census data and published on the website fivethiryeight.com. According to the research data from 79% of universities, Black students were underrepresented by 20%. Only in two universities, which were researched, and where affirmative action was banned, there was an equal proportion of Black students to the age population of the state’s college. One of these 2 universities was Florida A&M University – a historically Black university. Latin Americans were equally poorly underrepresented – 20% out of 82% of the public research universities.

Reasons for Affirmative Action to be Controversial: Advantages & Disadvantages for Students

When arguing about the positive and negative sides of affirmative action, every point is going to be controversial. That is a defective solution to a problem in a defective world.
Anyway, try to compare on your own all the pros and cons of this policy with the help of the points we’ve outlined below.

Advantages of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

  • Presence of diversity: There are students of different cultures, ideas, and race on the campuses.
  • Balances odds: Historically, underrepresented applicants have equal chances to be accepted along with other social groups. Affirmative action also helps to carry responsibility for the lost opportunities the underrepresented groups have experienced, which might have been the cause of lower test scores.
  • Improves economics: People with a college degree definitely affect economic mobility in a positive way. As mentioned in the Brookings article, children who are brought up in a low-income family usually remain there (47%). And those children who graduate from a four-year college (10%) have more chances to earn more and, thus, positively influence the economy.
  • When minority groups, who have been underrepresented, receive access to education, it is more likely they improve their condition. So that people can get a career, which would be unreachable for them unless they received an education. Life in college opens so many possibilities in front of them that they may have never thought of obtaining.
  • Challenges the status quo: When students from one social or ethnic group interact with another, which is different in terms of culture, race, beliefs, and tradition, they may take a new look at each other and put aside any biased beliefs they had before.
  • Answers to societal loss: After years of discrimination and inequalities, lots of minorities were unable to achieve what other social groups could. Affirmative action made it possible for them to strive for success by means of their education.

Disadvantages of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

  • Reverse Discrimination Appears: The irony of the existence of affirmative action is that by eliminating unequal conditions for one group, it enables positive discrimination for the other.
  • May have no connection to real income: Richard Kahlenberg from the Century Foundation discovered that about 71% of Harvard students, who are Black and Latino, originate from rich families. So, it is not always about helping deprived people.
  • Personal achievements may seem not so meaningful: If a person from an underrepresented group gets accepted to a top-rated college, in which affirmative action is established, others may tend to believe that it is not deserved, but just a concession to a majority group.
  • Intensifies stereotypes: The fact that affirmative action in college admissions aids underrepresented groups, people may start thinking that these groups can’t succeed without external assistance.
  • Diversity is not easy: Just having students originating from various groups under one roof does not create a diverse culture at once. Students may still have nothing in common. And if we turn to the statistics, of, say, 2013, not more than 4.5% of students from Harvard came from the income bracket.
  • Whatever point of view you have towards affirmative action in college admission, it affects the acceptance procedure. So, it is advisable to use a chancing calculator to estimate the likelihood of getting in for you. Such tools usually take into account not only your test scores or GPA results but also demographic information. Thus, you will have a more accurate evaluation of your admission chances.

Still, have doubts about what school to apply to?
You may consider 8 to 12 schools to include in your list. Your choice may fall on both safety and reach schools. And it’s better to start searching for schools. The earlier, the better. Thus, you will be more likely to find the one which fits your needs.

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