History of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

You’ve likely heard the term “affirmative action” before in regard to the workplace. Did you know it can play a role in college admissions as well? Here’s a breakdown on affirmative action in college admissions, how it came to be, and more:

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action refers to policies that are designed to increase representation of minorities and women in the workplace and in education. It tends to provide extra consideration for hires and college admission for individuals from underrepresented groups. These programs help with access to education, promoting diversity, and improving pay inequality.

Affirmative action in college admissions.

The History of Affirmative Action in the United States

Affirmative action, as it exists today, began in the early 1960s to help alleviate racial discrimination when it came to hiring. President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925 into law in 1961. For employers, it required them to “not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin” and “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson would expand the order in 1965, and then again in 1967 to include “sex” as an included and protected category.

Cases Against Affirmative Action in the College Application Process

Over the years, affirmative action has been brought to court several times. Students and professors claimed it promoted reverse racism in some cases. In 1978, however, it was shown that UC Davis was using a quota system to meet affirmative action policies. The Supreme Court ruled that the quota system was unconstitutional. Since then, it has also been stated that race could not be used as a tiebreaker between students when it came to acceptance.

Affirmative Action Today

In 2014, the Supreme Court announced that, “States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions.” Prior to this decision and after, 9 states have banned race-based affirmative action. These include California, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Idaho.

Between 1976 and 2016, the percentage of white students in colleges throughout the United States has dropped from 80% to 57%. In states that banned affirmative action in public colleges, there was a 23% drop in people of color.

Affirmative action today remains a hot button issue. Although many support the idea as a whole, only 30% believe that it should have a place in the college admission process. For the other 70%, they believe that merit should be the deciding factor when it comes to acceptance.

It is clear that the policies have improved diversity in the workplace and on college campuses. No doubt though debates about affirmative action in college admissions will continue in the years to come.

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