For much of American history, elite colleges and universities were greatly reserved for wealthy, mostly white Americans. Only in the 20th century did this institutions start to actively prioritize diversity and expand accessibility by adopting tools such together affirmative action—the narrowly tailored exercise of considering race and also ethnicity as part of a holistic evaluation of a student’s application. Affirmative action is among the best tools colleges and also universities have to promote diversity and ensure that those who space otherwise shut the end of the American postsecondary system have actually a opportunity to earn a quality degree.

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While the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the usage of race in admissions, some groups continue to undermine accessibility for college student of color. These pressures have found a strong ally in the trumped administration, which has actually leveraged the could of the federal government to threaten affirmative action. After ~ failing to show that affirmative activity hurts white students, lock have adjusted tactics and began to promote the myth the helping part students the color accessibility education results in discrimination against well-qualified eastern American students. This harmful legend perpetuates inaccurate narratives of homogeneity in eastern American communities; disregards significant socio-economic differences between ethnicities; and ignores the distinct intraracial disparities affirmative action helps to alleviate. This tactic is not new; groups and individuals that look for to maintain unfair systems have actually long attempted come sow division in communities of color.

Despite their initiatives to impede the nation’s progress toward education equity and also pit areas of color versus each other, leading civil rights groups proceed to defend the use of affirmative action, and research continues to show its need. Race-conscious admissions techniques remain necessary in the fight because that racial equity in higher education. In this column, we check out five reasons to support affirmative activity in college admissions.

1. Student of color remain underrepresented on university campuses

College enrollment and completion rates have actually risen considerably over the past four decades. However, student of color, specifically black and also Latinx students, are much more underrepresented at selective universities today than they were 35 year ago. In fact, a black color student enrollment disparity exist at 45 of the 50 flagship state universities, definition that the portion of undergraduates who space black is reduced than the percent of high college graduates in that state who space black. Because that example, black color students comprised 50 percent the 2015–2016 high college graduates in Mississippi, yet were simply 12.9 percent of college of Mississippi undergraduates.

Banning affirmative action only intensifies this persistent problem. For example, one study uncovered that college student of shade experience a 23 percent point decrease in likelihood of join to extremely selective windy colleges after an affirmative activity ban goes into effect.

While much progress has actually been do in recent decades, college student of shade still stay underrepresented on university campuses nationwide. Prioritizing diversity and employing race-conscious admissions policies are vital for fostering equity in higher education.

2. Prioritizing diversity services students of every races

Diversity on college campuses improves the education experiences of students of every backgrounds. Evidence gathered by the Century structure suggests the racially integrated classrooms have the right to reduce students’ racial bias, enhance satisfaction and intellectual self-confidence, and enhance leadership skills. These benefits may interpret to better economic outcomes and, among other payoffs, prepare college student to work-related in a diverse worldwide economy, enhancing the productivity, effectiveness, and also creativity of teams.

Institutions of higher education have placed a higher priority top top integration and campus diversity in recent decades. White women may have actually been amongst the best beneficiaries of this effort. In between 1967 and 2009, female college enrollment more than doubled—from 19 percent of every students come 44 percent. Throughout this period, the percent of white women period 25 come 35 v college levels surged from much less than 15 percent to much more than 40 percent.

People of shade have also benefited substantially from university integration and efforts come prioritize campus diversity. In between 1976 and also 2008, black and also American Indian/Alaska Native human being saw your share of complete college enrollment rise by 39 percent and also 46 percent, respectively. Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander people’s enrollment share much more than doubled throughout this period as well.

Overall, wealth of evidence demonstrates the systematic efforts to prioritize diversity in university admissions deserve to improve the representation of in the history excluded groups while bolstering the educational experiences and economic outcomes of all students. 

3. Affirmative action in education and learning promotes diversity in methods a focus on earnings alone cannot

While revenue can and should be thought about as component of a holistic testimonial of applicants, that should match rather than supplant the factor to consider of race and also ethnicity. Income deserve to serve as a an excellent indicator of a household’s capability to cover regular expenses, yet it doesn’t tell the entirety story about economic well-being and access to greater education.

Wealth renders it easier for households to relocate to better school districts, acquisition test preparation books and also classes, and also pay or aid pay college tuition. Yet centuries of systemic racism and also intergenerational move have noted white family members with far more wealth than families of color, also after controlling for income. In fact, middle-income white households generally have twice as lot wealth together their Latinx counterparts and three times much more wealth than their black color counterparts. Together a result, college student of shade (especially black color students) are an ext likely than an in similar way situated white college student to attend underfunded and also high-poverty K-12 schools.

Even when students of shade have rich parents or to visit the very same schools as white students, they endure the U.S. Educational device differently. Because that example, college student of shade are much less likely come be referred to “gifted and also talented” programs, even after regulating for check scores, health, socio-economic status, and also classroom and also school characteristics. Institutions are also an ext likely to suspend or expel students of shade than white students. Beginning as at an early stage as preschool, this experiences deserve to hinder social-emotional and behavioral development; border educational experiences; obstruct the procedure of identifying and also addressing basic issues; and contribute to increased family stress and burden early to obstacles in detect an affordable and also suitable alternative placement. Data additionally show the race-based bullying is top top the rise, and also black and also Latinx student who experience bullying are more likely to suffer academically than their white peers. Till the racial wealth gap and also other develops of structural racism room eliminated, income alone will certainly be insufficient for cultivating diversity on university campuses nationwide.

4. Affirmative activity helps colleges take steps toward higher equity in admissions

Overall, affirmative action is a device that has allowed historically excluded groups to attend college. Students of color have long confronted systemic obstacles in the American education and learning system, consisting of exclusion, segregation, underfunding, under resources, and also lower familial wealth. As a result, college student of shade are more likely to fare worse top top the signs of success the colleges evaluate for admission, making it harder for people of shade to accessibility top-tier public and private colleges. Race-conscious admissions practices, such as affirmative action, attempt to remedy this inequities by encouraging colleges to take it a closer watch at several of the nontraditional determinants that can make a college student successful—factors often overlooked in timeless admissions criteria.

Wealthier, regularly white, college student are an ext likely come have had actually a parent that attended college—meaning those college student are most likely to advantage from practices such as tradition preference. In addition, white student are most likely to have greater quantities of wealth and attend K-12 institutions that carry out multiple extracurricular activities, sporting activities programs, and college prepare resources. As a result, this students are particularly competitive applicants because that top-tier institutions. Affirmative action allows colleges to usage holistic reviews to consider race together one of many factors under evaluation as soon as reviewing applicants. Therefore, affirmative activity betters the chances of a student of color receiving fair, considerable consideration instead of gift overlooked for admission.

5. Affirmative action helps promote social mobility

Despite the obstacles low-income students and students of color face to gain access to greater education, research study has shown that when admitted to top-tier institutions, low-income students complete their level at greater rates and also earn virtually as much as affluent students postgraduation. This findings imply that all students, nevertheless of background, advantage from the worth top-tier institutions provide. Therefore while some argue the low-income students and also students of color may it is in overwhelmed through the scholastic rigor in ~ selective colleges, research suggests the opposite.

Affirmative activity can aid to level the playing ar by ensuring every students—regardless that wealth, privilege, or background—have a possibility to advantage from the advantages selective colleges provide. As a result, low-income students and also students of color increase their opportunities of emerging from poverty and stepping right into the center class.


For decades, upstream colleges and universities closed your doors to students that color. Together a result, students of color remain vastly underrepresented at the country’s top-tier institutions. Affirmative activity combats the impacts of this distinguish by allowing colleges and also universities come be more intentional in the ways they evaluate applicants. Placed simply, affirmative action ensures colleges and also universities provide opportunity to those historically shut the end of the system since of their race, ethnicity, income, or identity. Because that this reason, that is critically necessary that policymakers and also legislators work to safeguard the usage of race-conscious admissions policies throughout the country. If not, inequality will proceed to persist, and also the American greater education mechanism will failure to offer those the could benefit the most.

Connor Maxwell is a policy analyst for Race and also Ethnicity policy at the Center.

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Sara Garcia is a former an elderly research and advocacy manager for Postsecondary education at the facility for American Progress.