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No more race in US admission decisions: Will international students be affected?

Source: Shutterstock

The Trump administration recently rescinded an Obama-era policy to consider the applicant’s race in university admission. Between 2011 and 2016, the policy served as a guide for colleges and universities to promote diversity in selecting their incoming cohort.

Now, schools will no longer have to include race in their admission and enrolment decisions.

Given that international students are from other countries, and thus usually of another race, this has caused concern among some parties who believe the new development will hurt their chances of getting into a US university.

It’s a mistaken view, according to educators.

Speaking to VOAScott Schneider, a New Orleans-based higher education lawyer said: “I don’t think that it’s going to have much, if any, impact on international students.”

New York University spokesman John Beckman does not envision the shift to have “any impact on our policies or as causing us to change our practices.”

Affirmative action

To understand this issue, one must visit the history of affirmative action in the US and how it plays a role in the nation’s higher education sector.

Affirmative action was first implemented at the federal level through an executive order signed by then US President John F Kennedy in 1961. With an intention to provide equal opportunities for all, it included the requirement that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

Laws, policies, guidelines, and administrative practices were subsequently developed to redress the wrongs on historically excluded groups, such as racial minorities or women.

Similarly, colleges and universities voluntarily adopted policies which seek to increase recruitment of racial minorities.

However, it’s been an effort mired in controversy ever since. While supporters say these policies encourage diversity which has positive effects on students, critics say they cause reverse discrimination and are unfair on those who have merited their place at university, especially in highly competitive schools.

The US has a legacy of slavery, leading to racial minorities being disadvantaged and discrminated in many areas of their lives, including education. Source: Shutterstock

The Obama-era guidance was important, analysts said, even though it did not have the force of law. It stated that diversity is an important educational goal, and that colleges should be able to use a variety of methods to achieve this.

The guidance said:

“Learning environments comprised of students from diverse backgrounds provide an enhanced educational experience for individual students.

“Interacting with students who have different perspectives and life experiences can raise the level of academic and social discourse both inside and outside the classroom; indeed, such interaction is an education in itself. By choosing to create this kind of rich academic environment, educational institutions help students sharpen their critical thinking and analytical skills.”

While affirmative action will remain a fraught subject for Americans, the rescission of this guidance is unlikely to be so or have any impact on international students. Details of the new guidance remain vague, analysts say, and international students aren’t included in school’s diversity statistics anyway.

“College administrators frequently code the race/ethnicity of foreign nationals simply as ‘foreign’ without specifying a race group,” a 2004 study from Princeton University found.

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