What You Need To Know & Understand About Changes To Obama-Era Affirmative Action Guidelines

In general terms, affirmative action is used to protect members of groups who have historically been discriminated against. In the US, affirmative action laws prevent colleges, universities and employers from discriminating against applicants based on their race and encourage Universities to consider the various intersecting obstacles individuals from different racial backgrounds experience en route to higher education.

Under the Obama Administration, affirmative action was championed, as Vox notes —  and the importance of diverse college campuses was stressed, and colleges were encouraged to consider a student’s race when deciding on their admission to the college and Universities were encouraged to engage deeply with the diversity of their student bodies and examine which demographics were still underrepresented.

The Trump Administration, however, has decided to revoke the Obama-era guidelines for affirmative action, and the Education Department wants race to play zero role in admissions decisions at schools and universities. Here’s everything you need to know about how this decision and how it will affect college decisions:

1. Colleges don't need to meet quotas for diversity

The Supreme Court ruled under Obama that considering race in admissions decisions is legal, but quotas are not. Colleges are not required to admit a specific number of students of a certain race into their schools, but are encouraged to consider race when making decisions. As The Cut notes, The laws state that colleges should “[take into] account the race of individual students in a narrowly tailored manner” and the Justice and Education departments detail how to do so constitutionally.

Many colleges and universities take race into account in their holistic review of an applicant, but do not use it solely as a deciding factor (to meet quotas or abide by laws), Boeckenstedt of DePaul University told NPR

So, Trump and his administration are not changing an explicit law that states that colleges must accept a racially diverse population, but are just strongly suggesting that universities shouldn’t consider race as a factor at all.

2. Many colleges likely won’t be making changes to their admissions process

Colleges are not required to follow guidelines released by the Trump administration, says Boeckenstedt, “recent Supreme Court decisions are still the law of the land.”  Colleges still must abide by the Supreme Court decisions under Obama, however. But, because they aren’t currently obligated to make any changes, they likely won’t any time soon. Colleges will likely still continue to consider race as a factor in admissions decisions.

Although colleges do not have to follow the guidelines, the administration’s guidance is stronger than just a suggestion — with language that's pretty clear on potential consequences of continuing to abide by the Obama-era guidelines: “School officials who keep their admissions policies intact would do so knowing that they could face a Justice Department investigation or lawsuit, or lose federal funding from the Education Department,” according to the New York Times.

3. In the next few years, laws may change

Although Trump’s guidelines are not law now, they may be in a few years.

Boeckenstedt told NPR that while the administration has no ability to pressure the Supreme Court into changing the laws, with Trump’s appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, there is a possibility that the affirmative action decisions might be reversed.

Hopefully Universities and colleges across the U.S. will continue to strive to be as racially diverse as possible, even under these new "guidelines" from the Trump Administration.