The Trump administration doesn’t want you to see race, at least when it comes to college admissions.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era guidelines that encouraged higher education institutions to consider race during the admissions process, according to The New York Times.
The announcement comes from the Justice and Education Departments. The old guidelines were “unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper,” according to a DOJ statement.
The announcement might not carry as much weight as it seems to. Here’s how the new guidelines could impact you.
Should race be a factor in admissions?
Whether or not race should be a factor in college admissions is one of the oldest questions in the modern history of higher education — and the answer depends on who you ask.
When President Obama’s administration released its affirmative action guidelines in 2011, the recommendations were meant to encourage colleges and universities to consider using race when selecting students for admissions. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said that diversity dismantles stereotypes and that the guidance would help colleges provide true equality.
But last year, the Times reported that black and Hispanic students are even more underrepresented than they were 35 years ago. Enrollment among both groups may be up, but when it comes to elite schools, those students make up a smaller portion of attendees compared to other colleges.
According to the Times analysis, “Affirmative action increases the numbers of black and Hispanic students at many colleges and universities, but experts say that persistent underrepresentation often stems from equity issues that begin earlier.”
How will the new guidelines impact colleges and universities?
The current Department of Education is hoping colleges use race as little as possible when considering future students, according to Vox. Since revoking the Obama-era guidance on affirmative action, the current administration has republished guidelines from the George W. Bush era, noting that college admissions should be “race-neutral.”
Though the newest guidelines don’t change any laws, that doesn’t mean schools won’t be affected by them. Colleges that don’t follow the new guidance could be subject to an investigation by the DOJ. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated his willingness to sue if colleges are found to have admissions processes that include race as a factor, according to the Times.
“In the Trump administration, we are restoring the rule of law,” Sessions said in the DOJ statement. “That’s why … we began rescinding guidance documents that were issued improperly or that were simply inconsistent with current law. Today we are rescinding 24 more and continuing to put an end to unnecessary or improper rulemaking.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a separate statement obtained by ABC News that affirmative action is the law and schools should enforce the rules laid out by the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are constitutional, and the court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue,” DeVos said. “Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”
But others believe the Obama-era guidance is vital to colleges diversifying their student body. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, released a statement following the Trump administration’s removal of the guidelines. He said the decision moves the country in the wrong direction.
“At a time when our society grows ever more diverse and the need for engagement with individuals from other backgrounds is vitally important, the federal government should not threaten colleges and universities in their efforts to construct inclusive campuses,” his statement said. “The Trump administration is sending precisely the wrong message to institutions that are committed to following four decades of Supreme Court precedent.”
Does this change how you look for a school?
Finding your dream school depends on what you want out of a college or university. If a diverse student body is a priority, inquire about those statistics with your college of choice. Schools should offer this information up without issue. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for example, breaks down its enrollment data by college, degree, major, race, and sex.
If you’re looking for your perfect school, make a list of the most important factors a college should have. Consider everything from location to cost and campus culture. Remember that you’re not obligated to attend a school if it accepts your college application. It’s up to you to decide whether it’s a fit.
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