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If Affirmative Action is Dead, What Now? Part 2

Updated: Dec 20, 2023


Let’s Talk  November 2023                                                      

By Sanaa Scott-Wheeler Part 2

Part 2 of 2

Welcome back to Let’s Talk.


In Part 1, I examined how decades of legal challenges claiming reverse racism led to the June 2023 U.S. Supreme Court’s watershed decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions. So, where do we go from here?


Black College Enrollment is Declining and the Racial Wealth Gap is Growing

From its inception in the 1960’s, affirmative action resulted in a rapid rise in minority student college enrollment. But from 2010-2020, unlike for Hispanic and Asian students whose enrollment continued to rise steadily by 26% and 10% respectively, enrollment for Black and Native American students steadily declined – down 22% or more than 650,000 students for Blacks and 39% for Native Americans. For Black students, the most impactful reason is financial. The average Black household earns about half as much as the average white household and white families have eight times the median wealth of Black families – $188,200 compared with $24,100 – a gap that has been widening. Decades of employment and housing discrimination have created an intractable economic chasm. One jarring result is less access to good quality K-12 schools37% of Black children go to less resourced, high-poverty primary and secondary schools compared to 13% of Asian and 7% of white students.


Higher education was supposed to be the great equalizer to overcome these disparities, but only 28% of Black Americans and 21% of Hispanics have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 42% of white and 62% of Asian-Americans. For Black college students, 86% have student loan debt and Black college graduates end up owing nearly 50% more than white graduates. This financial disparity extends into the workplace, where Black graduates earn on average 15% less than their white counterparts and are more likely to be underemployed, making their debt harder to repay. So not surprisingly, college affordability looms large. One study found that regardless of parental education level, students who felt college was unaffordable were much less likely to apply. Another study showed that academically low-achieving wealthy students enroll in college at higher rates than their high-achieving peers of lesser means

How Can Colleges Achieve Student Diversity Now?

Colleges and universities now face much greater challenges including renewed legal risk in trying to diversify their student body, the benefits of which even Justice Roberts in his majority opinion acknowledged. Beyond an enriched social milieu, student body diversity confers proven lasting gains for all students and their institutions in shared academic knowledge, new discoveries, and even increased research dollars. There is clear evidence that in states that returned to race-neutral admissions procedures, minority enrollment fell rapidly. Some universities have used class or economic status to achieve diversity, but with diminished results simply because of population racial demographics.


Gaps in college preparedness caused by the racial and economic segregation of K-12 education must be on the table, with one trade off being enrolling more students with lower grades and test scores, which some fear increases the risk of student attrition and lowers institutional prestige. However, one in-depth study found the opposite: such students admitted to selective four-year institutions benefited from greater institutional resources, performed similarly to other students, graduated at higher rates and enjoyed higher post-college earnings. Some colleges have begun   offering more need-based financial aid, increased targeted and direct recruitment in racially diverse areas, expanded community college transfers and partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), implemented standardized test-free or optional admissions policies, and abandoned admissions preferences for legacy students, the children of big donors, and those with the greatest admissions advantage–athletes.


To tackle the deficits that lower income and minority students face, equitable K-12 state funding must be legislated. School districts need to consider offering affordable or free SAT/ACT prep courses, college essay workshops, more rigorous and unbiased career and financial aid counseling, and establish private sector mentoring and skilled trade apprenticeship programs.


If You’re Black in America, You Still Have Options

For some Black and brown students, earning a four-year degree is deemed a rite of passage. But for many, it is considered a privilege and out of reach. Whether you're the first in your family or one of a long line, applying to college can be daunting. While it’s true that some careers require a bachelor’s or graduate degree, there are enumerable good, well-paying career choices that can be had with a two-year associate degree, a certificate program, or a training program or apprenticeship in the skilled trades.


Things to Consider:


Remember, we do not need to squeeze into spaces that don’t fit us, and we should never stop striving for success!


Hope you’ll join me next time.

Sanaa Scott-Wheeler is a senior, majoring in Sociology at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. She has a special interest in traveling the world, expanding her knowledge of different. cultures, theater and film, and is studying acting at Playhouse West Philadelphia.


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