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  • Writer's pictureAanya M.

Economic affirmative action-is it beneficial?

Since 1978, the Supreme Court has allowed colleges and universities to consider the race of applicants; known as affirmative action. On November 17, 2014, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) brought forth a lawsuit against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), saying the use of race as a factor in deciding the admission status of a student violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. These two cases are known as Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College. 

The Supreme Court has upheld its 1978 ruling multiple times, notably in the Grutter v. Bollinger case from 2003 and the Fisher v. University of Texas cases from 2013 and 2016. However, in 2023 The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to end affirmative action.

Affirmative action was created to eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination. However, much of the argument to keep affirmative action is geared toward lower-income students of color. So can socioeconomic status be used to determine college admissions? 

A lot of debate has sparked from this question. The main argument opposing wealth-based affirmative action is that African Americans today still suffer from unlawful discrimination; even the ones who are upper class. Others argue that affirmative action should focus specifically on poverty and lack of opportunity, then it wouldn't be so controversial. 

According to Brookings, a wealth-based affirmative action plan would mean enrolling a large number of lower-income students, which would further raise the demand for financial aid. Under a robust class-based affirmative action program, universities would have to nearly triple their financial aid budget to cover all of the enrolled students' needs. This would be an extremely challenging task, decreasing the likelihood of lower-income students enrolling in colleges they are admitted to. This is based on an analysis of institutions that are moderately to extremely selective.

Overall, wealth-based affirmative action may help selective universities move toward preserving racial diversity in the wake of the SFFA verdict, but it would be difficult to achieve. Wealth-based affirmative action ultimately fails to achieve racial diversity with the same efficiency as race-based affirmative action, and it requires a significant budget infusion to help offset the higher demand for financial aid.

To truly give people of color the same advantages as the rest of the country, affirmative action needs to be brought back. 

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