Posted: March 18th, 2022

Factor in Deciding College Admissions

Affirmative Action – Should Race be a Factor in Deciding College Admissions?


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Should race be a deciding factor for college admissions? The debate is one that is hotly contested among students and administrators alike. Many feel that in a tight job market acquiring a college educational is an essential prerequisite for career advancement (Worsnop, 1996) thus competition for admission to many of the nation’s best universities is increasing.


In addition tuition expenses are also rapidly rising and applicants are seeking out more and more scholarships and other forms of academic assistance to overcome financial obstacles. Most employers seek out candidates that have at minimum acquired an undergraduate degree. Thus competition is fierce and candidates are seeking out equal opportunities not only with respect to admissions but also with respect to financial assistance.


Currently the state of the educational system at higher universities is in flux. Many universities report that minority populations are under-represented, particularly among top level universities in this country. As a result, many Universities have embarked on campaigns to recruit minorities including African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, traditionally under represented on many campuses (Worsnop, 1996). As part of these campaigns, affirmative action programs have been adopted by many top level universities as a means for balancing out the student population.


There are many that argue that these policies are necessary to provide minority applicants the opportunity to enjoy a top level university education. Critics however claim that such policies produce an environment of reverse discrimination, preventing otherwise qualified white applicants from enjoying a top level university education. These ideas and more are explored in detail below.


Affirmative Action: Beneficial or Not?


Proponents of affirmative action on campus claim that minorities are still largely unrepresented, making up less than a handful of the top universities populations (Worsnop, 1996). Administrators believe that affirmative action programs help favor students that are academically qualified but underrepresented on campus. Thus many top university administrators argue in favor of affirmative action plans that would allow a greater percentage of minorities to attend their university.


They claim it is necessary to balance out the student population and create an ethnically diverse atmosphere. Such an atmosphere according to many is more conducive to higher learning (Jost, 2001). An ethically diverse atmosphere encourages learning and self development according to others (Gurin, Dey, Hurtado & Gurin, 2002).


Another argument in favor of affirmative action made by admissions officials is that regardless of ones race, it is still essential that a candidate possess adequate grades and test scores, which are a critical factor weighed during the review process (Worsnop, 1996). Minorities are so underrepresented in many of the nation’s top colleges that some have claimed that the university environment may be considered segregated in nature rather than integrated (Phillips, 1994). Thus supporters assert that the applicants being favored are still considered highly qualified to attend the university, and there is no reasons they shouldn’t be given preference over other candidates.


Yet another argument for affirmative action is that other candidates including sought after athletes often receive special consideration as well as children of alumni (Worsnop, 1996; Kennedy, 2004) thus it is only fair that underprivileged or underrepresented students are afforded the same opportunities for special consideration.


According to Jean H. Fetter, a former dean of undergraduate admissions at Stanford, “the dilemma of unequal opportunities is so apparent in the academic criterion is ever present in these situations too. Students from economically disadvantaged classes may have fewer opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities” (Worsnop, 1996).


Those that oppose affirmative action in the school system argue in part that the economics of affording a college education particularly among elite universities is as much a hardship for white students as it is for non-minorities. The cost of a college education is in fact rising at a rate “higher than the Consumer Price Index” (Worsnop, 1996).


Other researchers have pointed out that integration of the nations schools may have had a negative rather than a positive effect particularly on African-American children’s “academic and social development” (Phillips, 1994) claiming that integration in the schools has only led to tension. School integration according to many treats black students differently from other ethnic and racial groups. Clifford Bennet a professor of education at UVA claims that “many blacks who grew up in segregated schools now question desegregation.


Many would say they received excellent educations and a good sense of who they are” when attending segregated universities in part because of the predominance of white teachers that don’t have high expectations for black students and who don’t really care about black students (Phillips, 1994).


Still other critics suggest that affirmative action programs result in lower qualifications for position and deny jobs to individuals with equal or better qualifications (Jost, 1995). This is a hotly debated area in affirmative actions. Though most universities claim that they will admit a minority over a white candidate only if they are equally qualified, most universities do not have a system for ensuring that this is the case, and many have admitted a different application process for minority students in some cases, which questions the equality of the system (Jost, 2001).


Other critics of affirmative action claim that it has evolved into a process of quotas, preferences and “set asides” that “amount to reverse discrimination against white males” (Jost, 1995). Critics claim that affirmative action programs should be outlawed in public education. Many students attempting to attend top level universities are finding that affirmative action in colleges in increasingly an issue.


In a society that believes that some level of racial and ethnic diversity is good for students, in a case where two equally qualified individuals apply for an opening, the white candidate might actually be segregated against. Critics suggest that affirmative action plans encourage double standards and replace discrimination “with a form of group preference based on race, ethnicity and gender” (Jost, 1995).


Analysis of Arguments


Reverse discrimination may indeed be a problem for white males. According to one researcher, “if you add up the number of people who have encountered reverse discrimination in college admissions, scholarships, public school magnet programs … you have a pretty sizable population” (Jost, 1995).


Still supporters do argue that affirmative action has opened doors for many that were once closed. With regard to the rigid quota issue, many supporters have pointed out that they are illegal for the most part. At best one may argue that the law regarding this matter is unclear.


The question remains, should colleges consider race as part of the admission process? University policies are currently geared toward promoting racial and ethnic diversity. Even the nations court system are in disagreement regarding race, with one federal judge approving undergraduate affirmative action admissions policies while another strikes it down (Jost, 2001).


In two very prominent cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, students are suing that universities affirmative action programs are discriminatory in nature (Jost, 2001). The legal uncertainty that exists is still very prevalent. Race based admissions policies are now “widespread in U.S. higher education” and for the most part considered well entrenched (Jost, 2001).


Theodore Shaw, an associate director counsel of the NAACP legal defense fund points out that at a majority of the nations top universities the overwhelming number of candidates that are applying for admissions are white students, therefore preference should be given to selecting minority students to balance out the student population (Jost, 2001).


Therein lays the problem however. Perhaps a better policy at this point would be not to merely admit more minority students, but rather encourage more minority students to enroll in the first place, to help balance out the enrollment pool. There are some positive components of an affirmative action plan particularly if it encourages universities to recruit more minorities, and a diverse student body may contribute “to the educational process” which is necessary in the 21st century global economy where diversity is an element of every day life (Jost, 2001).


Gurin, Dey, Hurtado & Gurin (2002) have pointed out that educators within the U.S. higher education system have long been the most stringent supporters of educational affirmative action policies, claiming they are justified because they ensure that racially and ethnically diverse student bodies are created. Further educators claim that a diverse population is necessary to provide the best educational environment for students.


Further these very same proponents would argue that a diverse population creates “an atmosphere of speculation, experiment and creation” that is essential to the foundation of higher education (Gurin, et. al, 2002). Undoubtedly diversity encourages active thinking and helps individuals develop an identity and expression in a welcoming environment.


Still the argument that affirmative action creates reverse discrimination in the educational system is a strong one. College admissions have become a “laboratory case” (New Criterion, 2003) where applicants are no longer considered without regard to race, sex, creed or national origin but are instead considered specifically for it. Many universities admit that they are willing to go above and beyond to help applicants that meet “the correct racial/ethical profile (New Criterion, 2003).




Whether or not affirmative action programs should remain a factor in college admissions remains unclear. Those in favor of affirmative action point out that minorities are terribly underrepresented in many of the nation’s top level universities, and that action must be taken to correct this under presentations. Supporters also point out that favoritism is showed many different types of students including cherished athletes, thus the same favor should be afforded minority students.


In addition supporters note that a diverse campus is one that is most conducive to higher learning and exchange. All of these points are valid. However on the opposing side the points are equally valid. In some sense affirmative action programs do promote an atmosphere or at the very minimum tolerance for reverse discrimination. An equally qualified and well talented white student may be declined admission simply based on the color of their skin.


The argument that quotas result from affirmative action programs is one that is weak, as most universities do not have a strict quota system that they follow. Still this does not mean that reverse discrimination does not occur. Affirmative action programs may also open the potential for a slightly less qualified candidate to be considered over a more qualified candidate, which should cause one to question its logic.


It is noted in the research that the pool of applicants among ethnically diverse students is relatively slim. One positive effect affirmative action programs have had is that colleges have embarked on more aggressive minority recruiting campaigns.


Perhaps the true answer to under representation is encouraging universities to seek out a more diverse candidate pool by utilizing more advanced recruiting techniques rather than affirmative action campaigns. By nature many programs that are labeled affirmative action have a negative connotation associated with them. A better approach might be simply to adopt policies that encourage a more diverse applicant base by utilizing better recruiting techniques.


Colleges and universities might also consider working more closely directly with high schools in underprivileged areas to help students realize the benefits of higher learning and encourage them to apply to top level universities. If minority students do not have access at the early education level to the same level of academic excellence, than it is more likely that they will have difficulty or struggle at the advanced educational level. It is important that federal legislators view education from the whole, rather than a certain portion of it only.


The affirmative action issue has been explored from many different perspectives, but only at the university level. Far too little emphasis has been focused on education at the early education level. More attention to academics and equal opportunities at this level might result in a wider range of applicants that are qualified and eager to attend the nations universities, and might eliminate the need for affirmative action policies altogether.


Undoubtedly, the issue of affirmative action in college education is one that will not go away in the near future. Thus it is important that administrators, educators, students and federal legislators work together to develop a solution that is acceptable to al parties involved. Examination of favoritism at any level in the university should also be a consideration for educators and administrators alike. The purpose of the nation’s higher education system should be to provide equal opportunities to all citizens regardless of race, sex, gender or national origin. Despite the facts, affirmative action is here to stay in the short-term. It will continue to be hotly debated until an adequate solution is found to under representation in the educational system.




Gurin, Patricia; Dey, Eric; Hurtado, Sylvia; Gurin, Gerald. “Affirmative Action Encourages


Educational Diversity.” Civil Rights. Karen F. Balkin, Ed. Current Controversies Series. Greenhaven Press, 2004. From: Patricia Gurin, Eric L. Dey, Sylvia Hurtado, and Gerald Gurin, “Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes,” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 72, Fall 2002


Jost, K. (2001, September 21). Affirmative action. The CQ Researcher Online, 11, 737-760. Retrieved November 27, 2004, from Document ID: cqresrre2001092100.


Jost, K. (1995, April 28). Rethinking affirmative action. The CQ Researcher Online. Retrieved November 27, 2004, from Document ID: cqresrre1995042800


Kennedy, C. (2004). “Bush says colleges should end ‘legacy’ admissions such as his.” The


Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved November 26, 2004 from, p_docid=10460EE8DD7C1656& p_docnum=8& p_nbid=A5DR4DQBMTEwMTU2NDk2Ni44OTQwMjc6MTo5OjM4LjExNS42MA& p_queryname=700


New Criterion. “Affirmative Action Creates Reverse Discrimination” by New Criterion.


Discrimination. In, Mary E. Williams, Ed. Opposing Viewpoints® Series. Greenhaven Press, 2003. From “Notes & Comments: January 2001,” New Criterion, January 2001


Phillips, S. (1994, January 7). Racial tensions in schools. The CQ Researcher Online. Retrieved November 27, 2004, from Document ID: cqresrre1994010700.


Worsnop, R. (1996, February 23). Getting into college. The CQ Researcher Online.


Retrieved November 27, 2004, from Document ID: cqresrre1996022300

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