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Do colleges still need affirmative action?

April 29, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that a Michigan state constitutional amendment banning race-based admissions at the state's colleges and universities is constitutional. Analysis of the ruling would tend to suggest that similar state laws would be constitutional as well.

The relevant constitutional amendment says that institutions"shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting." Based on the analysis by various pundits, the decision essentially leaves affirmative action up to individual states. Other states may attempt to pass constitutional amendments comparable to Michigan's.

Meanwhile, Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered a passionate dissent to the majority decision, noting that "race matters" and accusing her colleagues of attempting to wish away the lingering effects of discrimination in society. Sotomayor makes a valid point. According to The Bloomberg Report, enrollment by black students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor dropped by 33 percent since 2006, when the law took effect. Diversity in the race and financial background of students both are beneficial for a college campus, since students learn from one another as well as from their professors and have an opportunity to learn how to work together with people from so many backgrounds as they will later in the workplace.

One thing the decision does not note, though, is the effect that race-based preferences in college admissions have on Asian-American students, who have historically done well on average and often have to have even higher scores than whites, blacks, Hispanic and Native American students to earn admission to a top college.

I also wonder whether some of these policies take into account college completion rates. Students who are less well prepared for college and are admitted with lower scores to an elite college will likely find themselves overwhelmed by college course work and could be more likely to drop out. That's a waste of the student's time and money as well as of the college's resources. In such a case, the dropout might have done just fine at a public university or community college. Another student who could have succeeded also likely lost his or her chance at an Ivy League education.

What do you think of the Supreme Court decision? Do you think we still need affirmative action at colleges and universities?


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