Affirmative Action: Helpful or Harmful?


George Dunhill, Senior, Guest Writer

Affirmative action is largely the result of the 1960s civil rights movement. The program was originally intended to give historically excluded groups, primarily minorities and women, equal opportunities to succeed in the academic world. Over the past fifty years, the program has been extremely successful at this goal. The percentage of minorities attending college has increased steadily, and now the percentages of white and minority enrollment in college are almost identical. According to a 2011 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the percentage of white Americans enrolling in college directly after high school was 69%, while African American enrollment was at 65%, and Hispanic Americans at 63%. Evidently, the affirmative action program has made great strides in leveling the playing field across racial boundaries. However, affirmative action has failed on two major fronts. Though the program has been going on for 50 years, its success in the college enrollment realm has not yet trickled into the business world. Financially, there are still major discrepancies between certain minorities and white Americans. Furthermore, the affirmative action program may be helping a portion of the demographic that doesn’t need assistance as much those within the demographic who are truly underprivileged.

Though affirmative action has done wonderfully in closing the enrollment gap percentage between races, research has shown that the program may not be helping those who need it most. One study by the Hoover Institution found that affirmative action tends to benefit middle and upper class minorities, more than their lower class counterparts. For this reason, affirmative action may be having negative effects on the college application process, already giving privileged people a greater advantage. This side effect of affirmative action is extremely visible in a town like Pelham, where many are lucky enough to have an emotionally and financially supportive family. With the great school system we have here in Pelham, almost everyone, regardless of race, has ample opportunity to succeed. On the other hand, in financially struggling communities, opportunities to receive a college education can be very rare for students of all races. In essence, affirmative action may be focusing on the wrong demographic.

With the racial balance in college being nearly equal, the average income of each race should be relatively balanced as well. However, this is not the case. African American and Hispanic Americans make an average of $43,000 per household, while white Americans make nearly $72,000 per household, according to the Pew Research Center. So, despite affirmative action changing college admissions, the program has failed to solve the overarching societal problem of large differences in income in connection to race. These statistics suggest affirmative action has not actually helped minorities in the real world. One of the main purposes of college is to succeed later in life, but for minorities it is statistically more difficult to do so, even with a college degree. Affirmative action has not done its job in helping minorities in the job market, which is what college itself should prepare you for.

Let’s be clear: this observation is not meant to belittle the effects of affirmative action. The program has benefited the lives of millions of underprivileged people in need of the opportunity that the policy provides. However, an alternative program that gives additional merit based on socioeconomic background rather than race may be more effective in helping those who truly need it. In this way, students whose educational opportunities were hindered because of the economics of their community, a disadvantaged local school system, or personal income would be offered a chance to escape from poverty. This would help all underprivileged students in the United States.

Additionally, the findings from the Pew Research Center about average incomes in comparison to the relatively equal enrollment of all races reveal a huge ethical problem in our economic sector. The route or source of this problem is nearly indeterminable, but it is extremely alarming that race plays a major role in how economically successful one will be in there life. In both the college and business worlds, merit and accolades should be the determining factor of how successful one is.