Departments of Justice and Education Declare Race Can Be Factored Into College Admissions

The practice of using race as a factor in college admissions has been a hotly debated one. In fact, during Bush’s time in the White House, affirmative action was severely limited, with the Bush administration essentially telling schools that race should not enter the admissions process at all. However, the new guidelines given to universities and colleges by the Obama administration are telling schools to change racial policies again – this time, to allow race to be a factor in admissions, according to an article in the New York Times.

The term "affirmative action" is not mentioned in the Department of Education and Department of Justice’s 10-page guidance, but the general idea is the same – to find a way where race can be factored into the admissions process so that colleges may increase racial diversity within the student body. Opponents of affirmative action have argued that the practice discriminates against white males, who make up the majority in most cases. However, a study conducted by Princeton University found that the removal of affirmative action would result in a sharp decline of minority students, such as African Americans and Hispanics, with little to no gains for white students. In fact, increasing diversity can better the learning experience for all students, as "learning environments comprised of students from diverse backgrounds provide an enhanced educational experience for individual students," the guidance read. "Interacting with students who have different perspectives and life experiences can raise the level of academic and social discourse both inside and outside the classroom."

The new guidelines suggest that post-secondary institutions consider factors such as an applicant’s socioeconomic status, first-generation college status, and geographic residency because while those factors are technically race-neutral, they can help to draw in more racially-diverse applicants. In addition, colleges are encouraged to consider selecting schools "based on their demographics (e.g., their racial or socioeconomic composition), and grant an admission preference to all students who have graduated from those schools, regardless of the race of the individual student," the guidance read.

Overall, the new guidelines strive to provide colleges with a way to factor race into the admissions process without explicitly judging applicants based solely on race. This is important because while increasing the diversity of the students at a university can enhance the learning environment, doing so at the cost of admissions standards would not. In fact, schools are specifically warned to "reject approaches that would require them to sacrifice a component of their educational mission or priorities (e.g., academic selectivity)," according to the guidance. There’s a real need to increase racial diversity in schools, but the actions taken to achieve that goal must be carefully moderated so that race never becomes the only factor in admissions decisions.

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