Ending affirmative action would see black student enrollment numbers drop from 7% to 2%

Ending affirmative action would see black student enrollment numbers drop from 7% to 2%, with number of black students applying dropping to half that of their white peers

  • Selective colleges and universities are assessing ways to plan for the Supreme Court’s likely overhaul of affirmative action
  • In a brief offered to the court, 33 liberal arts colleges say black enrollment may plummet to just 2 percent if affirmative action is outlawed 
  • By a wide margin, Americans do not support using affirmative action in the college admissions process and would support SCOTUS overturning the policy

The end of affirmative action in the college admissions process may mean a sharp decline in the enrollment of black students and other ethnic minorities.

If the United States Supreme Court rules as it is expected to in the next few months, affirmative action in college admissions will likely be overturned or rolled back significantly.

A brief submitted to the court by 33 selective liberal arts colleges over the summer, claimed that if affirmative action is ended, ‘the probability of black applicants receiving offers of admission would drop to half that of white students.’

‘And the percentage of Black students matriculating would drop from roughly 7.1 percent of the student body to 2.1 percent.’

Some higher education professionals argue that without affirmative action, the number of black students of color at colleges and universities will plummet to 2 percent

Some higher education professionals argue that without affirmative action, the number of black students of color at colleges and universities will plummet to 2 percent

Proponents of affirmative action policies rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC in late October as the justices heard arguments that could spell the end of the race-based selection policy

Proponents of affirmative action policies rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC in late October as the justices heard arguments that could spell the end of the race-based selection policy

Affirmative action effectively became a popular tool for college admissions offices to use in the late 1960s and has become a sanctioned practice via previous Supreme Court rulings.

However, when the practice was last ruled upon by the high court in 2003, then-justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted that it had been a quarter-century since the body first approved the use of race and sex to diversify student bodies at public institutions.

‘We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,’ she wrote.

Nearly 25 years on from that writing, prestigious institutions are now saying that if affirmative action is taken away, black enrollment will fall to ‘1960s levels,’ implying that the tool has not worked as intended and has indeed, been a failure.

The court is slated to rule on two against, Harvard and the University of North Carolina respectively. If affirmative action is rolled back entirely or in some measure, it will more than likely require a shift in strategy to the methods colleges currently employ to build a diverse class.

Programs that specifically target racial and ethnic groups for scholarships and honors programs may be targeted, in addition to the continued minimizing of the importance of standardized test scores in an application package.

The court may also prevent colleges from purchasing lists of potential applicants that revolve around the race and ethnicities of the students, Dr. Angel B. Pérez told the New York Times. She, the chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, described those purchases as a common practice in recruitment.

So-called ‘fly-ins,’ in which certain students are provided all-expense-paid visits to campuses may also be outlawed by the court, as could scholarship programs specifically designated for students of color. 

Pérez also argued that the potential overhaul of affirmative action would significantly decrease the number of students of color who attend college: ‘We will see a decline in students of color attending college before we see an increase again.’

‘We will be missing an entire generation,’ she said.

Despite protests and objections from some in the professional world of education, a majority of Americans approve of doing away with affirmative action in college admissions

Despite protests and objections from some in the professional world of education, a majority of Americans approve of doing away with affirmative action in college admissions

Several justices did not appear to be moved by arguments from Harvard and UNC that using bespoke race-based selection of applicants helped them build diverse classes necessary to foster appropriate learning environments

Several justices did not appear to be moved by arguments from Harvard and UNC that using bespoke race-based selection of applicants helped them build diverse classes necessary to foster appropriate learning environments

Programs that specifically target racial and ethnic groups for scholarships and honors programs may be targeted, if affirmative action is overhauled

Programs that specifically target racial and ethnic groups for scholarships and honors programs may be targeted, if affirmative action is overhauled

In court, the universities argued that they use a system of race-conscious admissions because diversity is a critical aspect of forming a class prepared to learn. Members of the largely conservative-appointed court did not appear particularly moved by the argument, which they heard in October.

The cases were originally filed in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group that argued the universities had discriminated against Asian and white applicants by giving preferred admissions to Black, Hispanic and Native American students – many with comparatively less qualified applications.

By a wide margin, Americans do not support using affirmative action policies in the college admissions process and would support the Supreme Court overturning its legality.

A YouGov survey found that 54 percent of adults in the US were opposed to universities considering race as a factor in selecting applicants – even as part of efforts to boost diversity on campus.

That figure far outweighs the 23 percent who wanted admissions directors to use race to guide selections and similar numbers who were unsure. Democrats were much more supportive of affirmative action policies than Republicans.

Supporters of affirmative action gathered outside the US Supreme Court as the judges heard arguments about race-conscious college admissions in Washington, DC, this week

Supporters of affirmative action gathered outside the US Supreme Court as the judges heard arguments about race-conscious college admissions in Washington, DC, this week

A decision by the 6-3 majority conservative leaning court is due by June

A decision by the 6-3 majority conservative leaning court is due by June

Nine US states already prohibit any consideration of race in admissions to public colleges and universities: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Washington.

In California, the heavily blue voter base handily rejected a proposal to revive affirmative action in 2020.

Though public opinion on the topic appears to vary depending on how the question is asked. A Gallup Poll from 2021 found 62 percent of Americans in favor of affirmative action programs for racial and ethnic minorities.

But, in a Pew Research Center survey from March of last year, 74 percent of Americans, including the majority of black and Latino respondents, said race and ethnicity should not factor into college admissions.

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