While students learn critical thinking skills in college classrooms, sometimes lessons learned outside the classroom are just as important. College allows students from all walks of life to participate in an arena in which their ideas and interests are broadened by interactions with the larger campus community. This can best be accomplished when that community is diverse in as many aspects as possible. Affirmative action creates a diverse campus population while providing underprivileged students and underrepresented minorities a chance to partake in higher education for themselves. While affirmative action currently does benefit individuals and society as a whole, the system should encompass other factors in addition to race. While race still should be considered in college admission systems, socio-economic status and access to quality education should be more proactively emphasized.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in Fisher v. University of Texas. A white student, Abigail Fisher, claims the school denied her admission as a result of its affirmative action system. According to the plaintiff, in Texas there are two types of affirmative action at play. The first awards the top 10 percent of every high school with automatic admission to the University and the second gives a small advantage to students of racial minorities who weren’t in the top 10 percent. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 landmark case that involved the University of Michigan, the court ruled that race could be used as part of a holistic approach to admissions. In Fisher, the justices will decide what, if any, role race can play in admission decisions.
Race is not the only factor for a diverse college campus, and it therefore should not be as highly valued as socio-economic status and access to quality education when making admission decisions. The current system of affirmative action limits the scope of the social good it could create. While it’s important to have a racially diverse student body, it’s also important to give underprivileged students a chance to attend higher education institutions. Affirmative action systems should also take economic background strongly into account along with other factors.
Michigan has a long history with affirmative action. Most recently, in 2006 Proposition 2 canceled the Supreme Court’s Grutter ruling by banning universities from considering either race or gender when deciding admissions. With many Michigan school districts failing, it’s important the University do its best to allow socio-economic and racial minorities a place during the admissions process. The problem with the current system is that universities may admit minority students over students with economic or educational disadvantages. With about 80 percent of students coming from households that make over $100,000, diversity among students at the University is not as prevalent as often advertised.
In 2003, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the majority opinion for the Grutter decision, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest that we approve today.” In 2028, hopefully we will reach that point. However, today, there are many social issues, both historical and current, that must still be considered. Affirmative action is the best option for the nation in order to reach a just admissions process that furthers society and educational institutions themselves. But this process will only be fair if it considers all disadvantaged applicants, and while race is certainly a factor, it does not begin to convey the inherent problems that disadvantaged students face when applying to college.