Today, college classrooms in the United States are more racially diverse than they looked in the 1960s. This change is namely the result of affirmative action, an idea presented by President John F. Kennedy with an executive order and reworked by President Lyndon Johnson as another executive order that prohibited publicly funded companies from discriminating based on race, color, gender, national origin or religion. This included public universities and colleges and marked a decisive change in the college admission process.
As college admissions officers worked to balance diversity and credibility, they eventually began using quotas -- for instance, universities might require that 15 percent of the student population be black students. However, in 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Regents v. Bakke that public universities could not set forced quotas, but they could still consider race among other factors in admissions decisions.
The issue has continued to evolve and be debated over the years. In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, prohibiting the use of race in regards to public university admissions in the state. That same year, a Supreme Court ruling in the case Hopwood v. Texas accomplished the same thing. However, moving forward to 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that, once again, race can legally be considered in the college admission process, as long as it is only one of several factors [source: Cornell]. One study on the subject found that, as of 2004, one-third of public colleges and private institutions claim to consider race in their admissions [source: Grodsky].
However, as societal and educational standards evolve, many leaders, educators and students still debate whether race should continue to be used at all as a factor in college admissions.
The argument for considering race, supporters say, is that it helps create more diversity in schools and provides a leg-up to some students who might need it. Proponents argue that a diverse student body helps prepare students for their careers and life outside school. But critics fear that universities concerning themselves with race may be passing up equally or more talented students for the sake of reaching a goal. It's a heated and difficult argument with valid concerns from both parties, but one thing is clear: The push for a change in one direction or another appears to be inevitable as supporters on each side continue to raise the issue.
Many political, judicial and educational leaders are driving the issue forward, and their actions may offer some insight into what role race might play in college admissions in the future. But first, we'll take a look at how race is used in the admissions process today.