6 tips for covering race-based affirmative action in college admissions
by Denise-Marie Ordway, The Journalist’s Resource
April 5, 2023
6 tips for covering race-based affirmative action in college admissionsby Denise-Marie Ordway, The Journalist’s Resource April 5, 2023 Colleges and universities nationwide are awaiting the U.S. Supreme Courts decision on two lawsuits challenging race-based affirmative action at Americas oldest private university, Harvard University, and its oldest public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.The conservative-majority court, which will likely release its rulings this summer, could require higher education institutions to stop giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American students as a way to diversify enrollment. While several states have already prohibited their public universities from considering race and ethnicity when evaluating applicants, the practice remains common among many of the countrys most selective schools. The nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions, which brought the lawsuits against Harvard and UNC in 2014, argues that giving underrepresented minorities an edge is unfair.Higher education officials generally do not consider Asian students to be underrepresented minorities. In 2020, 64% of Asian 18- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate programs, compared with 36% of Black and Hispanic 18- to 24-year-olds and 22% of American Indians and Alaska Natives of the same age, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.Attorney Amy Howe explains the basic facts of the two Supreme Court cases for SCOTUSblog, an independent blog she cofounded that is dedicated to covering the nations highest court.In the lawsuit it filed against Harvard, Students for Fair Admissions maintains that Harvard violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars entities that receive federal funding from discriminating based on race, because Asian American applicants are less likely to be admitted than similarly qualified white, Black, or Hispanic applicants, Howe writes.The University of North Carolina, the group argues, violates the 14th Amendments equal protection clause, which bars racial discrimination by government entities, by considering race in its admissions process when the university does not need to do so to achieve a diverse student body. Federal courts in Boston and North Carolina rejected the groups arguments and upheld the universities admissions policies, prompting the Supreme Court to take up the cases.Surveys in recent years have found the American public largely opposes admissions officials using race and ethnicity to help them decide who gets into the best colleges.When the Pew Research Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of 10,441 adults last year, nearly three-fourths said race and ethnicity should not factor into admissions decisions. Meanwhile, 67% of a nationally representative sample of 4,408 adults who participated in a Reuters/Ipsos poll in February said college admissions should be based only on merit.Most of the 3,931 degree-granting institutions in the U.S. do not employ race-based affirmative action. In fact, about 30% are community colleges, which typically admit all or nearly all applicants.The most prestigious schools are the most exclusive. Only 2% to 30% of applicants get into the 100 undergraduate institutions with the lowest acceptance rates, the U.S. News & World Reports newest ranking, based on the fall 2021 entering class, shows.Harvards acceptance rate was 4% that year, according to the ranking. Four other schools — the California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Stanford University — also had acceptance rates of 4%.UNC admitted 19% of its applicants, as did Boston College, Boston University, Wesleyan University, Washington and Lee University, the College of the Ozarks and the Rhode Island School of Design.To help newsrooms report on race-based admissions practices, we interviewed researchers who study affirmative action. We asked what journalists need to know and how they should cover the issue in the months leading up to and immediately following the Supreme Court decisions.We spoke to scholars whose work demonstrates the benefits of affirmative action as well as those whose research reveals negative consequences, including Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono, who served as an expert witness for Students for Fair Admissions.In all, seven experts — two professors of education, four economists and the senior associate editor of the Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race — shared a wealth of helpful insights and advice. We distilled the bigger points into these six tips.1. Broaden news coverage beyond undergraduate students at prestigious private colleges. If the Supreme Court orders changes to admissions practices, public universities likely will be impacted most.Theres a tremendous focus on super-selective private universities, says Yale University economist Zachary Bleemer. The big impact wont be selective private universities. It will be at selective public universities.Ivy League schools and other elite private colleges have relatively small enrollments. For example, Harvard has 7,103 undergraduate students. Wil