In response to the end of the 60-year-old affirmative action policy, former NBA great Charles Barkley recently made headlines with his donation of $5 million to ensure “Black folks always have a place at Auburn.”
Between 2010 and 2020, Black college and university student enrollment declined by 22 percent nationwide, and as of 2023, Black Americans make up only five percent of the Auburn student population. There’s a pressing need to address the growing education gap in America, but perpetuating racial discrimination through affirmative action is not the answer.
To fully grasp the ineffectiveness of affirmative action, we have to ask ourselves two important questions: What was the impact, and who benefited? During its inception in the 1965 segregated Jim Crow era, education was seen as the primary pipeline to success for the Black community. This belief and commitment led to historically high college graduation rates and thriving Black-owned businesses, contributing to the nation’s fastest-growing middle class. Current data, however, reveals a decline in these areas, with Black male college graduations at a low of 40 percent, Black business ownership at 2.4 percent, and decreasing Black middle-class participation.
Affirmative action has proven to be a dismal failure, with educational institutions benefiting financially while Black Americans face insurmountable student loan debt.
Millions of minority students are disproportionately trapped in below-average and failing public schools that fail to prepare them for further education or their future careers. Shocking data from a recent U.S. Department of Education study shows that 84 percent of Black students lack proficiency in mathematics and 85% lack proficiency in reading skills. A 2023 report found that in 23 Baltimore schools, zero students were proficient in math.
What are the consequences of failing to provide an adequate education while simultaneously implementing a policy that bases college admissions standards on a student’s skin color? Look no further than a 2019 Northeastern Illinois University study, where only 11 percent of Black students had graduated within six years and were five times less likely to graduate than their White peers. This system forces young Americans into a lifetime of debt with predatory compounding interest, no job skills, no degree, and no hope.
New and needed opportunities make it possible for at-risk students to have a fair shot at success. That’s why legislation like the Educational Choice for Children Act, which funds scholarship programs for upwards of two million students through charitable donation incentives that cover expenses related to K-12 education, such as tuition, fees, and supplies, are so popular.
I’ll work with anyone to champion a durable change that creates a brighter future for minority students, but we can’t pave a path toward racist policies that further divide our country. Education is the great equalizer, and we must ensure that every child, regardless of their background, has a fair shot at unlocking their American Dream.