A New Kind of Affirmative Action Can Ensure Diversity
After almost a half century, American higher education’s use of racial preferences in admissions to selective colleges may well be coming to an end. On October 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will hold oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, and many legal observers expect the court to curtail, or even eliminate, the ability of public and private colleges and universities to employ racial and ethnic preferences in admissions. Institutions are fighting valiantly to preserve the ability to employ racial affirmative action, flooding the court with amicus briefs. But given critical shifts in the makeup of the justices since a 2003 decision narrowly supported affirmative action at the University of Michigan, a new approach will probably be needed.
The good news for people concerned about racial and economic justice is that in several states that have banned racial affirmative action by voter referendum or executive order, legislators and college officials have not given up on pursuing diversity. To the contrary, they have invented new systems of affirmative action that in many respects are superior to the ones being replaced since they are attentive to both economic and racial diversity.
Seven states, with more than one-quarter of American high-school students, have abandoned racial and ethnic preferences at state colleges and universities; in two additional states, leading institutions have dropped race from admissions decisions. But as I outline in a new report for the Century Foundation, “A Better Affirmative Action,” in almost all places where colleges have been barred from using racial preferences, they have adopted creative approaches for promoting diversity.