Affirmative Action Cases Could Broadly Impact College Admissions

A 2011 study by Stanford professor Sean Reardon found that the practice often results in racial diversity, but not income diversity. Income, Reardon noted, plays much more of a role in test scores than race: The higher the income of a student, regardless of race, the better they perform. Race-based affirmative action allows schools to admit wealthy minority students, who aren't necessarily the ones suffering from problems of inequality, and still claim to be diverse. The result is a surface-level diversity that doesn't address the real issues at hand and doesn't help the students who are most in need.

Texas says it's important to factor in race precisely because doing so allows them to pull in qualified students who are racially diverse.

See Also: Student Diversity Is Up But Teachers Are Mostly White

"[The] University of Texas argues that it's essential to include those students, in part because they are more likely to have attended integrated high schools, are often wealthier and tend to have higher SAT scores, creating diversity within the school's minority populations," according to an article from Pew Charitable Trusts.

But Reardon's report notes that there has not actually been a decline in racial diversity where race-based affirmative action has been banned. That's because states have taken up alternatives, such as class-based considerations. Because poor students are disproportionately minorities, focusing on income inequality still promotes racial diversity.

"As this report outlines, universities in nine states have gone beyond racial preferences to create something that is hardly perfect but in profound ways far better: an affirmative action that is attentive to racial and ethnic diversity, but begins to address, at long last, deeper issues of class inequality in higher education," reads a Century Foundation study.

Regardless, race-based affirmative action programs are still prevalent, and any ruling by the court will still likely have a widespread impact on how schools tackle race and diversity in admissions, including at private universities. As Century Foundation noted, the court typically says that Fourteenth Amendment-related affirmative action decisions also apply to a part of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal dollars. Nearly every private higher education institution in the United States gets federal funding, so the ruling will affect those schools as well.

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