NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Searching For Alternatives To Affirmative Action

August 30, 2000

Affirmative action policies for college admissions have lost public support in many regions of the country. They have been rejected by voters in California and Washington state, and the practice has been banned in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that colleges can use race and ethnicity as a consideration in admissions decisions, but they cannot set aside set numbers of spaces for members of specific racial and ethnic groups. Since then, affirmative action supporters have been searching for some formula that will boost minority college admissions, while avoiding legal challenges and public backlash.

Here are several approaches they are pursuing:

  • Percentage plans automatically admit graduates at the top of each state high school class -- with Texas admitting the top 10 percent, California the top 4 percent and Florida the top 20 percent.
  • Various merit-based indexes are under development that attempt to recognize students who perform better than might be expected on standardized tests -- taking account of such factors as family income, school quality and race in some cases..
  • Research is underway to test the validity of an adaptability index which would supplement -- rather than replace -- standardized tests, utilizing trained observers to evaluate students' behavior as they engage in various group activities.

Affirmative action opponents still harbor doubts about these approaches, going back to objections over fairness and adequate preparation for campus life.

Source: USA Today research, "Quick Notes on Alternatives to Affirmative Action," USA Today, August 30, 2000.


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