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race and admissions
Affirmative Action on the Brink

The Supreme Court heard arguments for and against race-based preferences in college admissions this morning, and it doesn’t look good for the pro-affirmative action side. The New York Times‘ Adam Liptak reports:

A majority of the Supreme Court justices seemed unpersuaded on Wednesday that an affirmative action plan at the University of Texas was constitutional. But the member of the Supreme Court who almost certainly holds the crucial vote, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, devoted almost all of his questions to exploring whether the case should be returned to the trial court to allow the university to submit more evidence to justify its use of race in deciding which students to admit.

By the end of the unusually long and tense argument, Justice Kennedy indicated that the Supreme Court might have all the evidence needed to decide the case. That could mean that the Texas admissions plan is in peril and that affirmative action at colleges and universities around the nation may be in trouble as well.

We aren’t legal scholars here at Via Meadia, so we don’t have much to add to the constitutional arguments surrounding this case. Suffice it to say that while we are skeptical of the ability of the Court to craft a one-size-fits-all solution that works for all 50 U.S. states and all 3,000 U.S. colleges, we also believe that “dealing with historical injustice is a hugely difficult task, and there is little sign that today’s bureaucratic diversity industry is up to the job—or really even very interested in the job.”

In any case, focusing narrowly on race in admissions distracts from some of the broader injustices in the American higher education system. College tuition is skyrocketing, thanks to heavy-handed federal regulations, overly generous subsidies, and the perpetually enlarging academic bureaucracy. Prohibitive costs may do more to prevent underprivileged students from getting an education than admissions policies. Moreover, we have set up a grotesquely unfair system in which elite schools are the gatekeepers to elite status, handicapping millions of talented students who didn’t want to go to elite schools, or who weren’t focused on academics at age 17. If our society were less obsessed with the value of fancy college degrees, the stakes in the affirmative action debate would be lower.

Regardless of how the Court ultimately rules in this case, policymakers and education professionals need to start thinking about ways to overhaul our higher education system so that it is fairer to all young Americans, regardless of their skin color.

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