What Is Affirmative Action? How a Supreme Court Decision Could Impact K-12 Schools

Through affirmative action, race can sometimes be the tipping factor for whether to admit a given student when looking at students who are all very qualified for an institution, but there are a limited number of spots to fill.

Specifically, and often in more highly selective institutions, multiple factors are considered when students apply to college, including students’ academic achievement, extracurricular activities, essays, and recommendations. Then sometimes, on the margin, when admissions officers are trying to decide which students to admit, they take into consideration the diversity of the class that they’re hoping to build and the diversity of the campus that they’re trying to achieve, said Katharine Meyer, a fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy and Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. And one element of that is racial diversity.

More broadly, affirmative action is a policy that provides equity because not all schools are equal and not all students come from the same income level or have the same opportunities, said Carolyn Stone, a professor of leadership, school counseling and sport management at the University of North Florida.

“Affirmative action has helped out some of our students who had those incredible experiences and muscles that you can’t test on an SAT,” Stone said. “And they’ve been able to bring that diversity, that experience, and that knowledge to a learning environment that matches the country in which we’re living. So affirmative action is good for a country that is more and more diverse.”

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