Public opinion turns against affirmative action — and it’s not just white people

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

On affirmative action, the Supreme Court and public opinion has dramatically diverged.

Though the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s race-based admissions policy, a Gallup poll found that 65 percent of Americans disagree with colleges that use race and ethnicity in admissions, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Those who had some postgraduate education supported affirmative action, but only 46 percent of that demographic supported it. Racial considerations, even in programs designed to help groups that suffered racial discrimination, are unfavorably viewed by the public.

“While there was some support for consideration of economic status or whether applicants are the first generation in their family to go to college, support for considering race was low — behind considering athletic ability or alumni child status,” Scott Jaschik wrote for Inside Higher Ed.

Race or ethnicity as a consideration for admission only beat out gender as a major factor, 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Academic grades, economic circumstances, and first-generation status were much more popular. As racial minorities are more likely to be less wealthy and have less experience with higher education, colleges that engage in “economic affirmative action” could increase racial diversity without engendering public opposition.

The opposition to affirmative action isn’t only among white respondents, either.

Though white respondents, 67 percent, were most likely to think race and ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor, 57 percent of black respondents and 47 percent of Latino respondents were similarly opposed to affirmative action.

That could be because affirmative action isn’t seen as an effective policy, or because respondents don’t think minorities are disadvantaged by colleges anymore.

Colleges have also succeeded in improving racial diversity without resorting to affirmative action. Texas A&M University has had 114 percent growth in black and Hispanic students between 2003 and 2015 thanks to an automatic admission policy for high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

Admission based on personal merit, rather than test scores, favorable connections, or special race-based policies, have led the university to a racial demographic that’s much closer to Texas racial demographics.

Though the Supreme Court has upheld affirmative action as a legal policy, university policies might change as public opinion influences school administrators to ignore race, even when motivated by good intentions.


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