Can racial balance be achieved in education through affirmative action?

Can racial balance in education be achieved through affirmative action?


Affirmative action is referred to as the positive discrimination where the disadvantaged people in the cultural settings are given priorities or privileges. Countries from different regions use varied techniques to achieve the objectives of equity in opportunities. In the United States, affirmative action is used in the education and employment quotas (Banks, 2007). Positive discrimination is applied in the systems in order to redress the disadvantages endured by the minorities who face discrimination in schools and businesses. Gratz (2014) asserts that affirmative action in education allows the higher learning institutions to identify and attract outstanding individuals from the historically underrepresented groups. According to the United States Department of Labor, affirmative action can be applied in government contracts by covered employers to absorb and advance qualified minorities, women, persons with special abilities, and veterans (Hinrichs, 2012). The action may involve training them, securing job opportunities, organizing outreach programs, and other positive efforts.

Institutions of higher learning have been affected by the issue of discrimination in their placements. More importantly to note is that the number of students who qualify for a place in the colleges and universities surpasses the available space and resources (Banks, 2007). It becomes tasking for the institutions to offer placements to the qualified students. As a result, the affirmative action has been adapted to aid in securing admission to the less advantaged in the society (Gratz, 2014). People from the perceived minority racial background get an upper hand through having special secured placements. This paper evaluates whether these special placements help in achieving the racial balance in the institutions. Additionally, the paper analyzes the various research methodologies and techniques that will be applied in conducting the study. It formulates the statement of problem, research questions that will be answered in the study, and the methods of collecting data.

Statement of the problem

Discrimination has been an issue in the 21st century despite the continuous fight against segregation (“Americans for a fair Chance”, 2005). Equality in the institutions of high learning has significantly increased attracting people from the wide scope of the globe. From the year 2002 to 2013 there has been a notable change in the number of African-American, Asian, Latinos, and other races attending the institutions of higher learning. In the Harvard University, the number of African-Americans acceptance rate increased with 67% over the above mentioned period while in Georgetown they increased with 39.5% (Brown, 2006). On the contrary,  enrollment among the African-America, Hispanic and Native American students dropped with 42% at the university of Michigan law school in 2008 (Gregory, 2013). This followed an enactment by the government that issued a warning through a constitutional amendment to ban public institutions from discriminating individuals against their gender or race (Gregory, 2013).

Americans for a Fair Chance report insinuate that women earn at least 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.  Latinas women earn 56 cents while Africa-Americans earn 75 cents of what white males earn. In 2002, the median households income for whites was $44,964 contrary to $29,177 for blacks (“Americans for a fair Chance”, 2005). The current poverty rate for blacks triples that of people of the white origin. Disparity in earnings and poverty level can be traced back to the education systems; diversity on college campuses improves the learning process for all students. Placement offers largely affects the level of diversity in the institution which translates to equality in future. On average, an African-American woman with college education earns $19, 054 less than a man of the white origin (Long, 2007). The Princeton sociologists Thomas and Chang conducted a study on 2005 about college admission in the United States. In the compiled report, Harvard University had an overall acceptance of 10% and black acceptance rate of 16.7%, MIT overall acceptance rate of 15.9% and black of 31.6% (Hinrichs, 2012).

Another aspect that needs to be addressed in the affirmative action is the numerous court cases surrounding it. There have been a series of legal actions that challenges the efficiency of positive discrimination. Some of these cases include the California (proposition 209), Washington (initiative 200), and Michigan (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative) which were challenging the affirmative action in education (Long, 2007). The cases question the validity of affirmative action in the issue of racial balance. Therefore, this paper aims at identifying whether the affirmative action helps in bringing racial balance in the institutions.

Purpose of study

The main purpose of the study is to identify the role that the affirmative action has played in the education sector. Racial inequity is a menace that stakeholders are putting heads together to end. Equality is an important social aspect that enhances harmony and respect across the entire humanity race. Institutions play a major role in ensuring equity and sharing of resources among people. Therefore, data collected in this paper will be paramount in understanding whether racial balance has been achieved in education through affirmative action.

Background of the study

Discrimination especially on color basis has been a predominant issue in the United States for years. In the yester years, resources were allocated in preferential to the skin color of the individual. Several lobby groups, activists, and trade unions fought tirelessly to liberate the country from color segregation (Brown, 2006). This involved allowing people from different races to intermingle freely and use institutions jointly. However, there was an issue in disparity in accordance to race segregation. As a result, John F. Kennedy, former U.S President coined the term affirmative action in the year 1961 (Gratz, 2014). He issued an executive order that job applicants, and students are absorbed in the institutions equally without segregating them due to their skin color, background, race, or their nation of origin. The president noticed that people from the minority cultures were disadvantaged in an array of arenas. He propagated that an affirmative action to be used in allocating or admitting students in school in order to achieve racial balance in the country.

Research questions

This study covers a continuum scope and delves information widely regarding the issue of affirmative action in education. The main research question is whether asserting affirmative action in the institutions of higher learning enhances racial balance in education. The following are other research questions that will be answered in this study.

  1. Is the campus climate at the university hostile towards the minorities; that is, female, African-Americans, Latino, and other students?
  2. Do the students who get admitted through affirmative action compete with the rest in academic performance and other activities?
  3. Did the ban or the reduction initiatives in some states reduce the enrollment of underrepresented students in campuses?

The research questions appear to be simple and straight-forward but they are aimed at gathering a wide scope of information. The answers will respond to the emerging debate about the efficacy of affirmative action in schools and whether it should be scrapped off. The responses will be complex and far-reaching countering the issue of racial balance.


Literature Review

Walter and Daniel (2001) acknowledge that previous research asserts that campus climate is a central department of college access and achievement for underrepresented students. Lack of racial balance in campuses lowers the self-esteem for students of the underrepresented group that is characterized by hostile racial or gender climates (Walter & Daniel, 2001). Discrimination is a social aspect that plagues the enjoyed national cohesion in the country. It is a disastrous event that can result into adverse effects to the entire world. According to Maera (2013), racial balance is achieved when members of the marginalized groups are allowed to speak their own language, eat their own food, and share their common experiences without any fear in the institution. The campus racial climate is a great influence on how students behave and perform in the institution (Walter & Allen, 2001). Public administration should always be on the lookout while admitting students to admit a thoroughly mixed group in the school (Gratz, 2014). Long (2007) admits that university administrators face a challenging task when making choices in response to the rapidly changing policy context in regard to employing inclusivity in the institution. It is a very difficult job that they endure while ensuring that they admit people from all races without even laying an eye on them or meeting physically (Bowen et al., 2006). Consequently, the policy about social integration and diversity must be upheld in the institutions of higher learning. This is why they have no option other than incorporating the use of affirmative action in their acceptance technique for students.

Gregory (2013) believes that colleges and universities have relied on admission policies as their way of attracting diversity in the schools. Meera (2013) concurs with this notion when she states that administrators in higher education seek diversity, a potential corollary of integration, as a goal as well. The strategy involves accepting more students “with color” in order to have a racially mixed institution. Gregory (2013) continues to say that this strategy is known as “diversity rationale” that was introduced by the Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in the year 1978. The magistrate used this argument to defend his verdict over the race-conscious admissions practices in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (Gregory, 2013). This implies that the issue of racial balance in the institution has been ailing for many years ago and different stakeholders have tried to define a definite strategy that will curb this menace.

Meera (2013) gives an insight about segregation of the marginalized people and the accrued privileges to prevent their oppression. Many people have argued against the issue of giving privileges to the marginalized group terming it as offering special benefits to people who can compete fairly. This can be denoted from the California Proposition_209 where the state banned affirmative action. Meera (2013) explains this notion very clearly by saying that segregation should not be looked via the lens of privileges and benefits, but as a way that denies people space and excluding them from the mainstream or upper-status environments. Surprisingly, there are persons who think that discrimination is a thing of the past and should not be brought to the limelight in the post-modernization era (Banks, 2007). Conversely, there are rising cases of color segregation each day especially those which affect students of higher learning. For example, the shooting of a student by the Ferguson police is one of the latest incidences. Therefore, people should not be blinded about segregation because it continues to happen. The best way to counter-attack this situation is by achieving a racial balance in order to give people equal opportunities.

Walter and Allen (2001) believe that education system is a society whose experiences are cumulative and they influence the achievement in the later years. On the same breadth, Long (2007) states that students who have a bearable time in school reap benefits in the latter years. This can be related to the segregation situation where students attend a school that has achieved racial balance in admitting students. Their students tend to be successful in future compared to those who endured discrimination (Long 2007). Walter and Allen (2001) assert that the research on student achievement shows that minority students endure unique type of stress that yield negative college outcomes such as lower grades and retention to degree objectives. It is believed that Blacks and Latinos face these stressors due to the limited social support received on campus from the faculty and fellow students. Social integration is an important tool in academic growth and when the environment discourages social growth, the student is bound to academic failure. The main point behind all this argument is that an institution that embraces diversity is more successful and benefits its students. However, the main question still pops up in this discussion, “which is the best strategy that can be used in order to ensure diversity is upheld in learning institutions?” this is where the issue of affirmative comes in handy to help solve the puzzle of racial inclusivity.

The main research question in this study is whether the use of affirmative action aids in bringing equality in terms of skin color integration in the education system. Previously, scholars have dodged the question and embedded on whether the affirmative action should be abolished or not (Otten, 2003). The bottom line remains that affirmative action continues to be used in some institutions in spite of the fierce resistance from some parties. Diversity is highly attributed to the increased opportunities created for the minorities in the society (Johnston et al., 2007). Since the inception of strategies such as affirmative action, the heat about racial discrimination has cooled down. Institutions such as the University of Michigan Law School have coined several ways that ensure they have racially mixed institutions. It starts from the admission of students to when they are in school. MAP was originally called the Minority Affairs Program which was initiated to offer academic support to the students of color in the University of Michigan Law School. After the 2004 Gruttercase, the program was opened to all students out of concern that race-based programming would result in legal challenges. The program was intertwined with the affirmative action technique of admitting students in the institution and many institutions followed suit.

Research methodology

Research method

The study will incorporate the mixed research methods where it combines both the qualitative and quantitative researches. The qualitative method is used to derive non-statistical information that is known in the area of study. It involves deriving information through literature review and raising opinions that surrounds the topic of interest. However, the quantitative design will be more predominant in this study as it seeks to develop and employ mathematical models and hypothesis. The quantitative model will be used to analyze data collected in statistical form to provide a connection between empirical observation and mathematical expressions. The two designs are intertwined and will be used interchangeably in this study. This is because qualitative research makes and documents the observations made about a certain topic; quantitative research analyzes the observations using numerical models in order to interpret and give understandable information.


The study will incorporate purposive sampling method to collect data.  Purposive sampling is defined as the technique in which researchers select subjects on predetermined criteria according to how they contribute to the study. The researcher has to be selective and uphold limitations on participants in order to get meaningful answers. This is because the number of observations in the dataset will be generalized over the courses taken in the identified institution. They will be spread over natural sciences, social sciences, pure science, humanities, engineering, arts, medicinal courses, and business among others. The study will make an observation in 10 different public institutions from different states. Participants will also be picked on a random manner but they have to be of different backgrounds. Participants will include tutors, students, and other staff members. Each institution should contribute 18 participants; hence, 10 institutions will produce 180 participants. From the 18 participants, 6 0f them will be students, 6 will be tutors, and the rest will be non-teaching staff in the institutions. The students have to be mixed across different levels and gender.  Similarly, the statistics recorded about students admission will be used in the study. The data will include the figures of the students admitted through affirmative action and how they are faring in the institution. This will be used to identify how the students of different racial background are acclimatizing in the school. The study will pick random students who were enrolled through affirmative action and evaluate their performance in school in order to identify if they are at par with the others in terms of academic excellence.

This survey is intended to be on public university and will not include the historically identified Black Colleges and Universities. Secondly, these institutions should not be involved in the tussle of banning the affirmative action. The institutions should be balanced across the states in the country in order to get a general answer to the research question. Most of the conducted researches concentrated on 1998-2005 time-frame and there have been numerous changes since then. Therefore, this paper will concentrate on a more recent time frame; probably from 2007-2013.


Data collection

This is one of the most important sectors in this study that will help in getting the feedback to the research questions. It involves the process of digging information from the field or the respondents and documenting it for further analysis. It involves the process of acquiring and weighing information on an array of interests. They are used to test hypothesis with an aim of answering the research questions in order to evaluate outcomes. This study will employ the three main types of data collection. Firstly, the researcher will conduct surveys in the public institutions in order to identify the potential participants and respondents. This will include both open-ended and closed questionnaires that will be sent to the participants prior to the oral interviews. Secondly, the study will use both structured interviews with the main participants. It will involve oral interviews with the students incorporated in the affirmative action program. Members of staff will also be interviewed in order to understand their views about the issue of racial balance through an affirmative action. The third data collection method will be dividing the participants in specific focus groups in order to make follow-up questions after the study and exploration of other topics that may arise during the study. Actually, the researcher will conduct an observational study to validate the variables and answer questions accurately.

Data analysis

The study is quite broad therefore; data needs to be evaluated in a very keen manner so that it can be interpreted easily to the reader. Data that will be collected from the study will be quite cumbersome as it entails details from a number of participants in 10 different institutions. The first data analytical model that will be applied will be the time-series. This will involve capturing the data of students who have been enrolled through affirmative action for the period of 2007-2013. A correlation comparison can be used to identify the relationship between the accepted students through affirmative action and the ethnicity balance in the school. The second hoard of data regarding the respondent’s opinions about racial balance will be recording the responses into different categories. For instance, those who think that affirmative action brings racial balance will be recorded in one column while the others can be recorded in another column. These responses will be evaluated in order to identify the general opinion of the study participants.

During data collection activity, the researcher will employ the grounded theory approach to investigate the concept of campus racial climate. The study will specifically identify the responses, reactions to the questions, effects of racial and gender discrimination. It will also involve determining whether responses form thematic patterns that can be categorized together, body language and gestures will play a role during the interview in order to get a wholesome answer.


Gregory (2013) feels compelled by the declining campus diversity and the increasing lawsuits against schools during admission. Gregory (2013) feels that the institutions have despised their main aim of bringing together people of different social status, culture, background, and beliefs among other together to attain academic knowledge. This can be attributed to the increasing anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives deterring schools from positive discrimination (Fryer & Loury, 2005). The argument that positive discrimination offers a special privilege to certain group of people is allowing segregation in schools. It is still important for institutions to understand their roles in enhancing racial balance in the country. They should develop structures and systems that put in place requisite efforts in enhancing diversity. Therefore, the study will give a complete answer on whether affirmative action enhances racial balance in education.


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