Affirmative Action

Which factors should be considered during the admissions process?By
cover icon for Affirmative ActionAttribution: Midjourney


Affirmative action refers to the college admission practice to increase representation from certain groups, typically racial minorities. In top schools, affirmative action tends to increase African American students' chances while making it harder for Asian and white Americans. This topic deals with which factors should be considered during the admissions process and if race or gender should play a role in determining a student's future.


Most Republicans are against affirmative action and believe that choosing to admit people based on immutable characteristics like race or gender amounts to nothing less than discrimination. They think that college admissions should be solely based on the merit and accomplishments of the individual student. Republicans also argue that affirmative action harms not only the well-prepared students who are rejected but also the under-qualified students who are admitted. Researchers from the University of Texas and Florida International University found that Black and Latino students drop out of STEM fields at a higher rate than their white counterparts, which Republicans attribute to affirmative action.

Recently, Harvard faced a lawsuit from Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), claiming that they actively discriminated against Asian Americans. The SFFA showed that while Asian Americans perform better on objective academic measures, they received a lower "personal score" — a metric that heavily determines a student's chance of admission.

Although most Republicans are against race-based affirmative actions, some favor economic opportunity to be taken as a factor when judging a student. They claim this would allow for the most disadvantaged to have a greater chance for upward social mobility.


Most Democrats believe that some level of affirmative action is necessary to ensure equal representation among ethnic groups on college campuses — something which they believe is necessary given the history of the United States. Democrats hold that given the legacy that slavery has had on the United States, minorities are disproportionately disadvantaged economically, and thus academically; they believe affirmative action is required to combat inequality and give more opportunity to historically dispossessed communities. Furthermore, many Democrats argue that today, the United States suffers from systemic racism and that a quality education opens the doors for opportunity and gives minorities a meaningful seat at the societal table. Many Democrats also believe that it is important to include diverse profiles in universities to lay the groundwork for individuals to be more comfortable with interacting with individuals from other nationalities. Another study from the University of Michigan showed that having a diverse student body has been linked to enhanced motivation for learning and increased engagement.

Democrats believe that diversity is a virtue within itself; they often agree that the wide array of experiences that different communities undergo would help students of all races by providing them with a deeper understanding of others' lives and having a richer cultural experience more emblematic of the sociological makeup of the country.

Discussion Questions

  • What should be a college's main objective?
  • What factors should be considered in the college admission process?
    • Race? Gender? Economic status? Only academic merit?
  • Is Affirmative action fair towards the individuals involved?
  • What is more important, the collective results, or the merit of the individual?
  • How much affirmative action, if any, is ideal?
  • As a student, do you want affirmative action?

Sources: “DNC Statement on Trump’s Decision to Reverse Affirmative Action Policy.” Democrats, July 3, 2018.

Riegle-Crumb, Catherine, Barbara King, and Yasmiyn Irizarry. “Does STEM Stand Out? Examining Racial/Ethnic Gaps in Persistence across Postsecondary Fields.” Educational Researcher 48, no. 3 (February 21, 2019): 133–44.

Shorelight Team. “Why Is Cultural Diversity Important for Colleges and Universities?”, March 19, 2021. [](‌)

Wikipedia Contributors. “Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.” Wikipedia, February 7, 2021.

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