Ask The Dean - College Admissions
Question: What is going on with affirmative action?
There is a big furor going on in higher education circles because of the courts ruling that affirmative action is unlawful. In a nutshell, affirmative action involves colleges and universities giving special admission consideration to certain minority applicants. Sometimes, affirmative action can also involve the awarding of scholarship or financial aid funds. That, too has been ruled illegal.
Why has affirmative action become an issue? Today, the issue of cultural diversity is on the front burner of many schools. The deans of admission at these schools have made a concentrated effort to bring more "persons of color" into their schools' student bodies. To do this, two things need to happen. First, more minority applicants must be encouraged to apply and, second, more must be accepted.
It's sort of a catch-22 situation. For a college to appeal to certain minorities, there has to be a representative presence of that minority in the student body. It's tough, though, to build up that representative presence without having the minority students there.
Another issue is academic qualifications. The reality of today's college applicant pool is that there are more qualified non-minority students than there are minority students. (You can insert a long, complicated sociological argument here in which I won't participate.) So what's an admissions committee to do? Through affirmative action, they eased entrance requirements for minorities to allow for there entrance into the student bodies. This is the issue that non-minorities raised in their legal challenges.
In essence, the challengers said, "Why should someone with inferior qualifications to mine be admitted over me at this selective school, regardless of race, color, ethnicity, etc.?" It's a good question, and apparently the courts have answered, "They shouldn't be."
So now, colleges cannot use race as a basis for admissions. It's a complex issue, but that's the state of affirmative action today.