Optional Demographic Information/Affirmative Action in US Colleges
Back in the 1970’s, Affirmative Action was prescribed for almost all US Colleges and Universities. There were some exceptions to some of the parameters for single-sex and religious institutions in so much as they did not have change the culture of the school to accommodate. However, for many other schools this was a mantle that forced Admissions to alter how it reviewed applications and how it accepted students.
Initially, there was push-back in some of the more selective schools. An example would be that a school that had previously refused women was then forced to accept women, but it also made sure those women had the very best qualifications of the pool. This was not necessarily the same standard that was held to the male candidates. So the first few years the classes, in some of the schools, of these now different admitted students were held to far higher standards, and the merging of these new faces was not at all the smooth. Some of the earliest of these pioneers have some rather disturbing stories of how they were still made to feel as outsiders, even though they had more than qualified for their placement. This was another form of discrimination, just a little more hidden that flat out refusal to accept.
Slowly, brave souls took some of these schools to task about these “higher” standards for those new faces. And slowly the Courts responded as did the governments of the states and the Nation. So the Affirmative Action rules were spelled out more distinctly, and there were financial consequences, in terms of tax deductions and fines, for those who failed to meet the guidelines. Requirements and statistics were met. For most of those students who were graduating in the mid to late 1980’s, the standards for all were the same, unless the percentage of the minority populations in the schools was under-represented in proportion to the National population. The idea was to create at least some kind of parity, which reflected the Nation as whole. So people of color, gender, religious difference, if of a lesser population in the student body than in the Nation, got a bit of qualification to their applications. For many colleges, this meant that SAT scores could be lower or the GPA could be lower. In essence, the standards were altered in such way (most cases a lowering) to guarantee a demographic of diversity.
However, this became a challenge towards the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s as there became a practice in many large schools of allowing what were at that time, considered minorities, preference in Admission. The issue of excluding people simply because they were Caucasian became the grounds for lawsuits especially when highly qualified students were turned away for students with almost no qualifications in line with the school. The idea of reverse discrimination became a cry in a lot of spheres, not just colleges. There were many similar issues with employment standards as well. The University of Michigan’s case was widely publicized. It came before the Michigan Supreme Court in 2006. That court decided that state Universities did not have to uphold Affirmative Action if the diversity of the school was more than what the Nation represented.
As the decades have advanced since 1970, most Universities are not in any way restrictive in admissions based on ethnicity, race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. And the majority of US colleges are not even exclusive based on economy either. In fact, the decision said specifically that the schools did not need to accept a person of difference if the decision was based solely on their race and not on qualifications, if the percentage of students of that race were highly represented in the school.
The US Supreme Court had a revisit of this decision this past April. The only population which is showing to not be as equally represented in almost all states in colleges is the Hispanic female. In most schools, admissions offer vastly diverse population admittance. In the past decade, the volume of Caucasian males has actually declined to the point where in many schools; Caucasian males are a minority in some schools. Females are almost always the majority in colleges. And vice-versa, there are schools, in which, what are considered minorities, are the actual a majority of the student population. So the court doesn’t really feel that Affirmative Action is necessary in terms of college admission, as the way admissions works in colleges today, there is no class not represented, unless the school is same sex. The Michigan Ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in a 6-2 decision, but Justice Sotomayor ruled most vehemently with dissent. She, herself, was given support under Affirmative Action for her own education, and she is well-aware of the continued under-representation issue of Hispanic females.
However, the whole education process for college admission is working to allow for more Hispanic Females to gain acceptance without any legislation. The National Merit Scholarship has a Hispanic measurement, which is lower than the rest of the Nation to encourage parity in the award of this prestige to Hispanics. Colleges offer a lot of accommodation to all Hispanic Female candidates. The schools are trying very hard to encourage excellence in education for Hispanic women. The volume of scholarships, grants, and aid for Hispanics is a large pool, not just for college, but also for businesses.
What does this mean for most other students? Well, most applications offer demographic questions. Some offer them in a supplement, while others it is Optional information. Does this information help? Well, it could, if you are in the category that is under-represented. It could potentially harm you, if you are in a population that is over-represented. This hidden selectivity in applicant pools is something people talk about, but for which there are not statistics. However, the best advice is DO NOT give optional information on any application unless you feel it makes you stand out, in a good way!
There is another case coming up soon with regards to race at the University of Texas…it is difficult to determine the reason for under-representation of African American students as the fault of Admissions. So far, the Justices do not see any issue with the Admission policy, practices, or requirements. What is seen is that the volume of African Americans in Texas, who are juniors/seniors in high school, do show remarkably lower entrance requirements, and these candidates are not accepted. It has been offered that the University of Texas should grant even more assistance to these students as gateway into the school through programs to boost the education, which seems to not be present in their high schools. Once again, it is difficult for the Court to find any issue with the Constitution in this case. So, most pundits are not expecting the Court to overturn the 2013 decision in this case. There are numerous Federal Aid programs that might be scrutinized about their effectiveness in Texas, but once again, this has nothing to do with college admissions.