Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Promoting Equality or Creating Division?

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Higher education has become a necessity for any individuals aspiring to further themselves on a personal path to success. Rightfully so, a college diploma seems to be one of employers’ primary concerns throughout the hiring process. Unfortunately, this path-producing paper requires years of hard work and thousands of dollars. This leaves many students having to choose between debt and future career opportunities. Scholarships, legacies, and financial aid are not granted as often as colleges would like potential students to think they are. An acceptance letter to a first-choice school is something most students dream about, but the full-price tuition can make that dream impossible for far too many students. Affirmative action is at fault for this now common, but unfortunate, event. The partiality for minorities in terms of college acceptance and financial assistance has created numerous complications for bourgeoisie families trying to help their children reach a level of higher education. Students with high grade point averages (GPA), numerous extracurricular activities, and a spotless record are struggling to understand what exactly it is that they do not have. The qualifying factor seems to no longer be academic merit, but rather, race, gender, and household income. Overall, the admissions processes for colleges in the United States have become far from fair regarding both the students and their families.


Biased admissions have increased in recent years, and the rise does not seem to be stopping any time soon. Many would argue that those concerned with the effects of biased admissions are only white, middle-class families. However, in October 2018, a case regarding Harvard’s biased admissions against Asian-Americans appeared before the courts. The activist group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) represented the many Asian applicants that were not accepted. Their evidence shows that Asian males are required to have a score sixty points higher than that of their white, male counterparts (Jung, 2018, para. 6). This in turn shows that it is more than simply the Caucasian race who feel targeted by the unfair admissions of higher educational institutions. Peter Arcidiacono, Economics Professor at Duke University, found and compiled much of the evidence used in the Harvard v. SFFA case. He found that removing racial bias in Harvard’s admissions process would increase the number of enrolled Asian-American students by 50% (Arcidiacono, n.d., para. 23). If Harvard based admissions strictly on merit, the Asian-American minority would soon become the campus’s majority population, and though that may not be diverse, at least it would be fair.

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Historical Litigation Against Biased Admissions

Moreover, in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most well-known Supreme Court cases in all American history, brought forth one of the greatest advancements for African-Americans. The court ruled that separating children because of race was in violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment (McBride, n.d., para. 1). Ironically, Harvard Law Review has an article regarding the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause (this being the evidence used to support the removal of racial bias from schools). The self-righteous attitude of universities has done nothing but create an even greater racial divide, and unfortunately this divide is being instilled in the young adults, the next generation, and the future leaders of the United States. It has been sixty years since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, and race is as prevalent a factor in higher education as ever.

The Ineffectiveness of the Ban on Affirmative Action

Biased admissions are also often referred to as affirmative action, or as Oxford English Dictionary (OED) describes it, “…the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups who have been discriminated against previously”. Affirmative action has long been a hot topic for many, and stances on the subject typically vary among those with different political affiliations. Currently, there is a ban on the use of affirmative action in eight states including California, Washington, and Michigan. Affirmative action is usually opposed by republicans, therefore many find it surprising that some of America’s most democratic states have welcomed its ban. However, even in states where race-based admissions have been made illegal, colleges and universities are still finding ways to bypass the law. For example, when Kevin Reed, former Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), was asked if race played a role in the school’s admissions process, he immediately answered, “No”, being sure to allude to the school policy as well as California’s state constitution. Yet, he followed his statement by adding that while race is not a factor, the institution, “can and must take steps” to ensure that the admissions process works to promote racial and ethnic diversity (Holistic Review Admissions Process, 2008, para. 4). If one were to view Reed’s answer with even a somewhat neutral lens, it would not be difficult to understand that UCLA (as well as other institutions) uses loopholes to disregard the state’s ban on affirmative action.

Furthermore, UCLA has also been working to further their agenda by including applicants’ “life challenges” in admissions criteria. However, Stanley Park, a Korean-American with a 1500 Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score, divorced parents, a mom with breast cancer, and works to help with rent, wants to know why his life challenges are not as “challenging” as that of Blanca Martinez, who received only an 1100 SAT score (Golden). Both UCLA and Berkeley rejected Park but accepted Martinez. It appears that Park is the more successful student, so why was he not admitted? Rae Lee, the university’s former admissions director explained that the new criteria, “…was intended to make the student body as reflective as possible of the state’s population” (Golden). To many, Lee’s statements are not an acceptable explanation. Life’s obstacles and the population of California have little to do with each other. Ergo, yet another example of loopholes used to promote unfair racial advantages in the higher education system.

“Perfect” High School Students

Moreover, an increasing number of “perfect students” are not being accepted to universities of their choice. Exemplary SAT scores, a plethora of extracurricular activities, and hours of volunteering still do not seem to be the magic formula needed to receive a letter of acceptance. College Board reports that within the last decade, participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses has nearly doubled. In May 2017, nearly three million students were expected to take AP exams, compared to the 645,000 students in 2006 (2.7 Million Students to Take AP Exams, 2017, para. 4). It is known that AP classes are more challenging, so one could rightfully assume that most of the students that participate in them are generally well-rounded and are able to handle the work load. Consequently, if the number of AP students has doubled, the number of well-rounded or “perfect” students has most likely doubled as well. Does this mean that students are not being accepted because there is a larger pool of “perfect” students to pick from? As shown by Stanley Park, the Korean-American with a near perfect SAT, the answer to this question is no. The disappointing letters of rejection have made the process of simply applying rather arduous for young scholars. With little to no explanation as to why students are not being admitted, students are wondering what went wrong. Most often, nothing at all is wrong, unless the color of one’s skin exceeds a quota.

Middle-Class Families are Unable to Afford College Tuition

As a result of the unfair preferential treatment for minorities in colleges and universities, middle-class, Anglo students are left paying the price, literally. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) usually assists students with the greatest financial need and offers little to no money for middle-income households. In addition, legacy scholarships are commonly granted to wealthier students, as their families are able to afford several generations of tuition. Institutions also favor legacy students due to the likelihood that their parents will make donations to the school. This is neither a criticism of FAFSA or legacies, however it does bring to light the unfair treatment of those who are too rich to receive financial aid but too poor to pay tuition. Gage Marquez applied to the University of California San Diego and received an acceptance letter months later. Unfortunately, his family’s household income is above average. He received less than $3,000 in financial aid, and the school allowed him to borrow just under $7,000 in federal loans. This means his parents, whose yearly income is less than $100,000, have to contribute $18,000 annually out of pocket, totaling about $72,000 in high interest rate loans (Lobosco, 2016, para. 1-5). Unfortunately, far too many families are simply unable to afford the absurd cost of higher education, and its effects can be financially detrimental.

Eliminating all student debt has been a popular topic for many individuals, especially those of college age. This idea is so popular that it even became a recent bill, voted on by Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. However, others are concerned that this would be beneficial not for the socioeconomic status of all college students alike, but rather serve as a welfare program for those belonging to the middle-class (Leonhardt, 2018, para. 2-5). According to the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, around half of all student debt belongs to members of bourgeois families. Once again, this is due to the fact that middle-class students and families are offered the least number of scholarships and the smallest amounts of financial aid.

Student Debt Statistics

On average, student debt for a four-year bachelor’s degree from a public university is $28,500, a 3% inflation from the 2011-12 academic year (Average Cumulative Debt in 2017, 2017, para. 1). The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) have calculated the average starting salary for college graduates to be just over $50,000 (Gray, Koncz, 2018, para.1). With the typical loan repayment plan of about ten to fifteen years, students have the concern of debt well into their thirties. This means that on top of car payments, insurance premiums, 401(k)’s, and rent or mortgages, graduates also have to continue paying for an education they received years ago. This raises concerns for young couples hoping to get married and start a family. Banks and investment companies are advising to start saving before a child is even born. But how is this possible when people are unable to pay off their own student loans? This is not evidence supporting the removal of all student debt. Debt can be beneficial in teaching students and other young individuals to manage their finances. However, the skyrocketing tuition prices are inflated and simply taking advantage of students who only wish to further their education. Again, this is due to the scholarships and FAFSA assistance often being passed out to minority students like candy on Halloween. Any money lost is sufficiently made up for by full-price tuitions paid by middle-class students. Although this practice is done with the best intentions of helping underprivileged students get ahead, there is another group of students being held back in the process.


In conclusion, America’s higher education system is overpriced and unfair in their selection process. Regardless of how an individual feels about college, a degree is a necessity for most occupations, and it does not seem like that will be changing in the near future. However, the unfair favoritism of specific groups of students must come to an end. Not only does affirmative action treat students unfairly, it also instills the idea that the victimization of specific races is okay. Although practices such as affirmative action are used to help students whose race has been treated poorly in the past, they are in truth creating the same treatment for students of the middle-class or European descent. Rather than reminding students that they belong to a minority, they should teach all students the importance of equality and its everyday effects on the world. Colleges and universities make surplus amounts of money from the middle and upper classes. They should use these funds to empower students to stand together and be the voice of change. Instead of simply granting scholarships or aid because it is the politically correct thing to do, these institutions should place their focus on practicing the equality they so loudly preach of. Whether a student be black, white, Asian, Latino, or otherwise, they should be admitted to a school because they academically earned it, not because they checked a box that categorizes them by color.

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Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Promoting Equality or Creating Division? (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
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