As high school seniors across the nation get ready for Homecoming, today the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments that could determine what kinds of experiences they will be exposed to in college next year. The Court will hear Fisher v. Texas and decide whether the University of Texas -- and, by extension, all institutions of higher learning -- can consider the race of a student as one factor among many in a holistic review of a student applicant. The Supreme Court has already endorsed as constitutional an admissions policy very similar to that used by Texas a half-dozen times over the last half century, and, most recently, nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger. Yet, despite having this matter settled many times previously, we are somehow again debating the importance that quality and diversity play in our nation's colleges and universities.
Sadly, you may not hear many Members of Congress speak about this important case. It will, after all, be heard less than one month before the election and the topic is touchy. Many ask themselves, "Why should I care? Aren't we living in a society where we don't need to consider a person's race anymore?" To answer this question, one must consider the fact that college diplomas still remain elusive for many minorities. White students are five times as likely as black students to enroll in a highly selective college, and two to three times as likely to gain admission -- even after accounting for income differences between black and white families. Other minorities, Hispanics and low-income Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), face similar hurdles. This racial disparity cannot be attributed to academic preparation, as the racial gap in preparation has actually narrowed in the last few decades, but rather to the fact that while we have made progress, we still do not live in the kind of post-racial society in which equal opportunity policies are not needed.
Considerations of applicants' test scores, socio-economic status, leadership skills, grades, geography, extracurricular activities, life experiences and racial and ethnic background (and experiences that one might have as a result of that background) lead to a more diverse campus environment and better educational experiences for all students. The over 70 amicus briefs filers on behalf of the University from a wide range of groups such as military leaders, colleges and universities, social scientists, religious groups, civil rights organizations, women's groups and many of America's largest companies all agree. I, too, agree with our nation's flagship universities and top-tier institutions that we must have the flexibility to consider all sides of an applicant for admissions.
Some think that university admissions should be decided solely on grades and test scores. They are certainly key factors to consider, but I think we all would agree that it is nonsensical to suggest that one's SAT score in high school should dictate how wide the gates of opportunity should be for the rest of one's life. However, should the Supreme Court vote against the University of Texas in favor of Fisher, given persistent achievement gaps, even after controlling for family income, this is exactly what would happen. The ruling would make the student bodies of many colleges less diverse and cause the lives of those already attending the universities to be less enriching. Less exposure to diversity is not only an issue of racial understanding and about opening up the doors of opportunity, but also one that strikes at the heart of our nation's economic competitiveness.
Our businesses rely on our higher education system to provide the pipeline of talent we need to compete globally. These companies know, through decades of experience, that students who are exposed to others from diverse backgrounds make for better workers. These benefits accrue regardless of the student's race. Diversity in our workforce is vital to getting our economy get back on its feet and crucial to the success of American enterprises as our international business grows.
I wholeheartedly believe that when a student's race is considered, it must be done in a careful and thoughtful way. Let us hope, for the sake of our nation's economic health, that the Supreme Court continues to let universities determine their own admissions criteria.
Rep Michael Honda is the representative of Silicon Valley and member of the House Budget and Appropriations Committees.
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