The debate over universities considering an applicant’s race to promote diversity in admissions goes to the United States Supreme Court for argument Wednesday. The University of Texas contends a holistic admissions policy including consideration of race allows it to create a diverse class for the benefit of all enrolled.
Rejected applicant Abigail Fisher (who has since earned a degree elsewhere) argues the policy is overkill, with the university’s automatic acceptance of the top 10 percent of students graduating from Texas high schools already providing adequate diversity, Reuters reported. The 10 percent policy accounts for about 80 percent of UT’s minority admissions, according to the Associated Press. According to Fisher, the class of 2008 included black and Hispanic students less academically qualified than her because of race-based consideration.
It’s been 34 years since the Court heard Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, a landmark case banning explicit racial quotas in admissions. In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld by a narrow margin the use of racial considerations to promote diversity in Grutter v. Bollinger. Since that time the court membership has changed. Some court watchers predict the Fisher case could bring affirmative action to a screeching halt.
Here are some of the current issues and ideas surrounding use of race as a factor to promote diversity in college admissions:
* According to the AP, UT says Asians would be admitted in higher numbers if the university didn’t factor race into admissions decisions.
* As noted by the Huffington Post in June, several reports have found highly academically qualified Asians facing discrimination in college admissions due to race-based considerations aimed at promoting diverse classrooms.
* The Associated Press noted that multiracial Asians sometimes avoid checking the Asian box to describe their race on college applications to maximize their chances of acceptance.
* Colleges claim that holistic policies permitting consideration of a student’s race benefit all enrolled students by exposing them to diverse ideas, values, and social contacts, the New York Times noted.
* A report in Diversity Digest says studies show enrolled white students report benefits from socializing on campus with students of other races and discussing racial issues. These benefits include social and academic factors such as satisfaction with college, improved grade-point average, increased cultural awareness, and improved intellectual and social self-confidence.
* The National Association for College Admission Counseling, which favors diversity policies, says students don’t compete against one another for individual slots. All students considered for acceptance must meet academic standards, according to NACAC, yet meeting those standards doesn’t guarantee admission. Students weeded out in the diversity decision-making process could be left behind for a variety of reasons.
* As of 2003, 74 percent of colleges and universities expressed a commitment to diversity in their missions statements, NACAS said. Only 33 percent said they considered race in admissions decisions. Of those considering race, 82 percent said the practice increased the number of minority students admitted.
* Forbes pointed out disparities in admissions are often economic, with admissions officers choosing “interesting” candidates with experiences not available to students forced to work. If the Fisher case does spell an end to affirmative action in higher education admissions, Forbes said, the decision may actually improve the opportunities for low-income applicants, including minorities, by forcing universities to expand their recruiting and widen their consideration to create diverse classes.