The Pros and Cons of Affirmative Action in the College Admissions Process

The debate over affirmative action in the college admissions process has become heated in the past several years. Many people criticize this process while others are extremely appreciative of it. But why is there so much controversy?

Affirmative action, in essence, is a policy or procedure developed by some higher education institutions in an attempt to diversify their student bodies racially, ethnically, and socio-economically.

Supporters of affirmative action believe that the policy helps give individuals from diverse backgrounds an equal opportunity to learn at an institution that has historically accepted individuals of a certain background or income bracket. Supporters of the policy believe that individuals from higher socio-economic classes are generally advantaged when it comes to applying to college, especially pricey Ivy League schools. Many Ivy League schools will accept students whose parents (or other family members) have attended the school. Students from lower income brackets whose parents may not have had the financial means to attend these schools are then presumably at a disadvantage.

In addition, many affirmative action supporters also believe that certain racial or ethnic groups are also disadvantaged when it comes to the college admissions process because these minority groups are frequently within lower income brackets. Individuals from lower income brackets are not exposed to the same resources as students from higher income brackets. For example, a Mexican student whose parents work blue-collar jobs is likely to attend a public school where he or she may not be receiving the same rigorous curriculum as a student whose parents have higher incomes and attend private high schools. Additionally, the same Mexican student would not be able to take advantage of SAT prep courses, where his/her counterpart (with a higher income) would be able to benefit from this extra instruction, undoubtedly allowing them to achieve higher scores.

In essence, individuals who support affirmative action believe that although students should certainly compete against each other based on merit, individuals from certain socio-economic classes are much more likely to be exposed to advantageous resources than others. Affirmative action, therefore, is a policy introduced to compensate for the disparities between socio-economic classes.

The main problem with affirmative action is that some people feel that colleges and universities accept under qualified students simply to diversify the student body racially or ethnically. In other words, people who do not support affirmative action policies believe that college admissions officers simply seek out students from certain minority groups, regardless of their academic merit. These individuals believe that students should be judged on an equal or standard basis.

While it may be true that “on paper” (i.e. standardized test scores) some students are under qualified to attend a certain academic institution, they DO diversify the student body. If every student is supposed to contribute to the student body in some way, then the students benefiting from affirmative action policies would at the very least be diversify a school’s student body by introducing different cultural or socio-economic perspectives.