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Affirmative Action Policies Are Outdated

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In the landmark case of Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor wrote in her majority opinion that the “Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Originally, affirmative action policies were meant to support historically disadvantaged groups, like the discriminated Blacks and Hispanics, in employment. Not long after that, several universities would start implementing affirmative action policies by using race as a factor for their own admission process. The result is a constant battle of court cases between supporters and dissenters of whether or not race should still be a factor in college admissions. Such as in Grutter v. Bollinger, where the Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action policies of the University of Michigan Law School, arguing that the use of racial preference was allowed in order to promote student diversity. However, such policies are outdated and no longer necessary today. Affirmative action should not be incorporated into colleges’ admission process because it does not help the actual disadvantaged groups, leads to potentially unqualified students being admitted, and that it doesn’t create diversity nor was it originally meant to.

As stated, affirmative action does not help those that are actually disadvantaged, and instead draws focus away from them. It should not be as simple as looking at the race of the student and giving them an edge to them being Black or Hispanic. The ones who are truly disadvantaged are the students who come from poorer families and neighborhoods, resulting in them not having the same amount of resources or quality of education compared to wealthier students. This can be seen in the increasingly wealthy profile of students at more selective colleges. In a 2016 report, it was found that in the nation’s 91 most competitive colleges, as defined by Barron, only fewer than 4 percent of these students are from the bottom income quartile, while 74 percent came from the top quartile (Blum). Wealthier families have become more focused on finding advantages to improve their children’s chances at selective colleges, such as hiring test-prep tutors to help improve their standardized test scores or private college counselors to polish their applications. The effort and money put into these students increases their qualification, but not the quality of them (Blum). A result of having more of these wealthy students getting in is that the overall quality of the students is diminishing.

Having students with lower quality being admitted also does not help them in the long run as they may be entering an university that they are not able to handle. Additionally, admission standards are constantly lowered in order for colleges to admit a more diverse student body. This also applies to other categories or students such as athletes and children’s of alumni. By entering an institution where their academic qualifications are below the institution’s median, these students may find themselves struggling to earn a degree in the field they want and that they may have had a better chance elsewhere. For example, Gail Heriot’s article Just Say No to Affirmative Action provides an example of how the mismatch of students and colleges affects the underrepresentation of minorities in science and engineering fields. In fact, it was calculated that only 36 percent and 41 percent of blacks and Hispanics respectively were as likely as whites to have a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering, based on data from the National Survey of College Graduates, which was conducted by the US Census Bureau (Heriot). A study from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute also found that initial interest for majoring in science or engineering was 52.6 percent for Asians, 35.7 percent for Chicanos, 34.5 percent for American Indians, 34.2 percent for African Americans, and 27.3 percent for whites. This shows that there isn’t a lack of interest from minorities in majoring these fields, but rather students entering with lower credentials are more likely to leave the field. The student who enters the school at the bottom of the standings are “less likely to persevere in his quest for a degree” when compared to a student that has similar credentials but attends a school where their credentials place them higher in the standings (Heriot).

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Although affirmative action has evolved into a tool used by colleges to create diversity, that was never its original intention. The phrase “affirmative action” first appeared in Executive Order 10925, which was signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961. The order required government contractors to ‘take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.’ Essentially, the first use of affirmative action was to provide an equal opportunity to employment for all U.S. citizens, as opposed to giving preferential treatment to those discriminated against. With the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, colleges started implementing these policies as a means of achieving diversity. It is good for campuses to have diversity, as people with different backgrounds bring different perspectives to education. However, diversity does not just mean bringing in students of different color, but students of different sexes, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, etc. People of the same color might not share the same opinion or culture, and vice versa. Colleges clinging to the race-based affirmative action fail to see that a better, and fairer, way to achieve diversity may be to instead change affirmative action to a class-based program for poor students.

Of course, many supporters of affirmative action will argue that its policies are still needed to combat the existing underrepresentation of students of color in college, and that no other solutions will work. It is in fact true that minorities are still underrepresented at selective colleges. An example being how 50 percent of high school graduates from Mississippi are black students, yet they constitute only 12.9 percent of University of Mississippi undergraduates (Maxwell and Sara). Furthermore, many supporters see the common proposal of using income instead of race-based affirmative action to promote diversity as an ineffective one. It would do little to change the racial makeup of colleges, as majority of the poor applicants are mostly white students, not Blacks and Hispanic (Dynarski). Though this is slightly misleading, given that Blacks and Hispanics are a minority in terms of high school graduates. According to data from National Center for Education Statistics, the highest percent of high school dropouts are either Hispanic, American Indian, and Black. That said, I agree that purely looking at one’s income does not accurately demonstrate the disadvantages they faced in their early levels of education. Rather the solution should be to consider the high achieving students from under-resourced places, a fairer method to help those disadvantaged by segregation. As Sheryll Cashin stated, “Geographic separation of the classes puts affluent, higher opportunity communities in direct competition with lower-opportunity places for finite public and private resources. And affluent jurisdictions are winning.” Whether or not this will help promote the diversity that colleges want does not matter all that much. What it will do is encourage cross-racial alliances among those with little access to academic resources, instead of creating resentment between race groups that affirmative action brings.

It has been nearly 17 years since 2003 when Justice O’ Connor first stated in her opinion that affirmative action will no longer be needed to achieve diversity in universities. Yet nothing has seemed to change. There is a large achievement gap between groups, and it will likely continue to stay this way in the future. We should not give students affirmative action simply because of the color of their skin. The structural disadvantages that students face starting from their primary education makes it much harder for them to achieve the same level of success to those who have blessed with plentiful amounts of resources. Affirmative action becomes nothing more than a band-aid solution that does not address the difficulties these disadvantaged groups face.

Works Cited

  1. Blum, Lawrence. “Affirmative Action, Diversity, and Racial Justice: Reflections from a Diverse,
  2. Non-Elite University.” Theory and Research in Education, vol. 14, no. 3, 1 Nov. 2016, pp.348–362., doi:10.1177/1477878516680400.
  3. Heriot, Gail. ‘Just Say no to Affirmative Action: AQ AQ.’ Academic Questions, vol. 24, no. 4, 2011, pp. 449-466. ProQuest, http://ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/docview/911905788?accountid=10559, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/10.1007/s12129-011-9257-4.
  4. Dynarski, Susan. ‘At Elite Colleges, Racial Diversity Requires Affirmative Action.’ProQuest, Sep 28, 2018, http://ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/docview/2113634785?accountid=10559.
  5. Maxwell, Connor and Sara Garcia. “5 Reasons to Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions.” VTechWorks, Center for American Progress, 23 Oct. 2019, vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/96113.
  6. Cashin, Sheryll. “Place Not Race: Reforming Affirmative Action to Redress Neighborhood Inequality.” The Dream Revisited, 2014, pp. 255–257., doi:10.7312/elle18362-075.
  7. “The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=16.
  8. Executive Order 10925, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commision, www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/eo-10925.html.
  9. “Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).” Justia Law, supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/539/306/.

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Affirmative Action Policies Are Outdated. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-policies-are-outdated/
“Affirmative Action Policies Are Outdated.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-policies-are-outdated/
Affirmative Action Policies Are Outdated. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-policies-are-outdated/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
Affirmative Action Policies Are Outdated [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/affirmative-action-policies-are-outdated/
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