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Beyond Affirmative Action: New Strategies for Diversity in Higher Education

Following the recent landmark Supreme Court decision ruling the use of race in college admissions as unconstitutional, the question of how to maintain and increase diversity on college campuses and equal access to college is more relevant than ever. With affirmative action no longer a viable solution, we examine alternative strategies that colleges can employ to promote diversity and inclusion. We also offer advice for prospective students to bolster their chances of being admitted.

Creating policies that enjoy wide bipartisan support can be challenging, especially in the realm of higher education and admissions. However, many of the strategies suggested above have the potential to appeal to both liberals and conservatives, including Trump supporters and others who identify with the "Make America Great Again" or "MAGA" political movement.

1. Income-Based Affirmative Action

One alternative to race-based affirmative action is income-based affirmative action. This approach acknowledges that lower-income students often have less access to resources that can bolster college admission chances, such as test prep courses and private tutoring. By considering income levels, colleges can help level the playing field and provide opportunities for these disadvantaged students to pursue higher education.

This could find support across the political spectrum. For liberals, it aligns with a focus on equality and providing opportunities for the economically disadvantaged. For conservatives, it avoids the use of race as a factor in admissions, a practice that some conservatives have criticized as unfair or discriminatory.

2. Community Investment

Investing resources in traditionally underserved communities can help foster a pipeline of students ready for higher education. Partnerships between colleges and local schools, offering resources like college prep courses, college counseling, and mentorship programs, can significantly improve students' preparedness and confidence when applying for colleges.

Investment in education generally enjoys bipartisan support. The idea of providing resources to underprivileged communities aligns with liberal ideals of supporting disadvantaged groups. For conservatives, this approach can be seen as providing equal opportunity, without giving preferential treatment based on race.

3. Embracing Geographical Diversity

By considering the geographic diversity of applicants, colleges can ensure that students from different parts of the country, rural and urban alike, are represented. This approach not only fosters diversity but also encourages the cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives, enriching the college learning environment.

Promoting geographical diversity in admissions could also draw support from both sides. Rural communities, which often lean conservative, can be underserved in terms of higher education, and geographical diversity could ensure they are better represented. Meanwhile, liberals generally support diversity in all its forms, including geographical diversity.

And this is where students of color are going to benefit from a previously widespread but highly unethical practice among realtors and brokers called Red Lining. How will something that many on the left consider a racist policy benefit students of color?

Redlining is the unethical practice that was widely used in the United States, where certain neighborhoods, often predominantly inhabited by people of color, were marked as risky for mortgage lending, which led to systemic disinvestment in these communities.

When universities consider geographic diversity, they could potentially give students from neighborhoods that were historically redlined a boost in the admissions process. This could be an indirect way to address historical racial disparities without directly considering race in the admissions process.

Such an approach could potentially help rectify some of the enduring effects of redlining, which include underfunded schools and limited resources in these neighborhoods. By recognizing that students from these areas may have faced systemic challenges beyond their control, universities can contribute to reducing educational inequities.

However, it's important to note that while this approach may assist many students of color, it would not exclusively benefit racial or ethnic minorities, as it is based on geographic location rather than race or ethnicity. Other students who live in these historically underprivileged areas but don't belong to a minority group would also stand to benefit. Moreover, not all students of color live in such areas, so the approach would not benefit all minority students.

Finally, while geographic diversity could be a useful tool in promoting broader access to higher education, it cannot single-handedly rectify the deep-seated and systemic disparities caused by practices like redlining. Broader social and policy reforms, in areas like housing, K-12 education, and economic policy, are also needed to fully address these issues.

4. The Holistic Admissions Approach

In a holistic admissions process, universities look beyond standardized test scores and consider other elements of a student's profile, such as essays, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and demonstrated leadership. This provides a more comprehensive view of a student’s potential and abilities, rather than focusing solely on academic performance.

The move toward a more holistic review of applicants is something both sides might support. For conservatives, it reduces the emphasis on potentially divisive factors like race. For liberals, it helps identify potential in students who might have been disadvantaged by standardized testing or other traditional metrics of academic success.

5. First-Generation Programs

Programs that give a leg-up to first-generation college students can also help promote diversity. Students from families without a history of attending college face unique challenges; giving them a boost can help to level the playing field.

Helping first-generation college students can draw bipartisan support as well. For liberals, these programs can support social mobility and equal opportunity. For conservatives, they focus on individual effort and achievement, rather than race or background.

6. Enhanced Recruitment Efforts

Increasing recruitment efforts in traditionally underserved communities can ensure students from all backgrounds are aware of the opportunities available, and can demystify the college application process.

Both sides generally agree on the importance of offering opportunities to those who might be unaware of them or find them inaccessible. Liberals would view this as expanding opportunity and reducing barriers, while conservatives might see it as an effort to broaden access without resorting to quotas or race-based measures.

For prospective students, these recent changes to admissions policies also necessitate a shift in strategy:

1. Academics and Extracurricular Activities

Focus on maintaining strong grades and participating actively in both class and extracurricular activities. Leadership roles and community involvement are highly valued in the admissions process.

2. College Preparation and Mentorship

Take advantage of any available college preparatory resources, and seek mentorship from teachers, counselors, or community leaders. Guidance from those familiar with the process can be invaluable.

3. Application Quality

Spend time crafting a compelling college application, especially your essay. This is an opportunity to share your unique story and stand out from other applicants.

4. Financial Aid and Community College Pathway

Research and apply for financial aid opportunities, including scholarships. And remember, starting at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution can be a more affordable route to obtaining a college degree.

These strategies offer promising alternatives for promoting diversity in the absence of race-based affirmative action. For prospective students, a shift in approach can open up new opportunities. Amidst these changes, the goal remains the same: to make higher education accessible and beneficial to all, regardless of their background.

It is important to point out that while these strategies might garner bipartisan support, it's important to remember that public opinion can vary greatly, and individual views within each political group can be diverse. Ultimately, the most successful approaches will likely be those that promote equal opportunity and broad access to higher education for all groups including the White majority, while minimizing perceived unfairness or bias.

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