Wake Forest University

The Use of Race in College Admissions

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

The Use of Race in College Admissions

Last week, the Supreme Court began hearing a potentially landmark case regarding the use of affirmative action in college admissions, revisiting an issue last addressed in 2003. At that time, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the author of the [Grutter v. Bollinger] opinion, ruled that policies that favor underrepresented minority groups – combined with the used of a variety of other evaluative metrics for all applicants – did not equate to a quota system, and therefore was deemed to be constitutional in application.

This time around, the Court’s focus will be the University of Texas system, which was sued after a white student, Abigail Fisher (a Texan), was denied admission in 2008. The school, which has a policy of admitting 75 percent of its class by guaranteeing ¬†admission to in-state students who graduate within the top 8 percent (initially included students in top 10 percent) of their high school class, [justifiably] denied Fisher who graduated at 12 percent. The other 25 percent of the class is admitted through a process that considers – among several factors – race and socioeconomic status. Herein lies Fisher’s claim of wrongdoing.

For the University’s part, Texas (as well as many other proponents) feels that such a policy serves to counteract the effects of largely segregated pre-K through 12 schools. By guaranteeing admission to the top students at each school statewide, Texas assures that racial diversity exists at the college level, though even then it is not fully representative of the minority populace throughout the state.

But a “new affirmative action” plan, as Insider Higher Ed writes, may be on the way – one that considers class as a factor. In a report just released by the Century Foundation, Richard Kahlenberg, the report’s author, argues that an affirmative action policy that focuses on an applicant’s socioeconomic status is deemed as being more acceptable by Americans. Such a policy is thought to indirectly produce the type of racial and ethnic diversity that the University of Texas seeks with its current policy. Furthermore, the report suggests [and we agree] that socioeconomic diversity should be as important as racial diversity in the context of admissions.

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