application, or to operate under a quota system that would impose a fixed number of admission slots that are reserved exclusively for certain racial or ethnic groups. Moreover, the ruling did not require schools to consider race, but it allowed them to—an important distinction that means schools that implement such admissions policies clearly agree that diversity is enough of a compelling interest to pursue in their classrooms.
So why do Fisher and the opponents of affirmative action think the Court would rule differently this time around? Well, for one, the makeup of the Court has changed dramatically in the nine years since the Grutter ruling. It is also likely that conservatives are trying to take advantage of an election year to make the tired argument that a black incumbent president proves we’ve accomplished some sort of postracial society that would do away with the need to consider race in admissions. The latest numbers on racial and ethnic disparities in college enrollment, however, quickly dispel that myth.
While students of color have made major strides in college enrollment rates since 2000, significant disparities still persist. As of 2011, 36 percent of whites ages 25 to 29 had obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, while only 18 percent of African Americans, 12 percent of Latinos, and 10 percent of American Indians had reached the same level of educational attainment.
We also know that as of 2010, students of color did not complete high school at disproportionately high rates. While 12.3 percent of whites have less than a high school diploma, the rate is 18.1 percent for African Americans, 37.8 percent for Latinos, and 22.7 percent for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Race and ethnic politics, however, never fails to incite ugly stereotypes about who is entitled to a first-rate education or who deserves the privilege of having their background considered as one of many admissions factors.
The Obama administration has been strong on the issue of diversity in education. At the end of 2011, the Education and Justice Departments issued a joint guidance that told college administrators and K-12 school officials they could use race to achieve diversity in our nation’s schools. The guidelines sought to reverse the guidance schools had received from the Bush administration, which warned them that they would risk losing federal funding if they promoted diversity on campus. Instead, the Obama administration’s guidelines refer to the
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