Ahead of Supreme Court decision, wide partisan differences in views of colleges’ efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity
Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand Americans’ views of colleges and universities weighing applicants’ racial and ethnic backgrounds in admissions decisions as a way to increase racial and ethnic diversity. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,079 adults from March 27 to April 2, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Ahead of a closely watched Supreme Court decision that may significantly affect the admissions practices of some of the nation’s top colleges, half of U.S. adults say they disapprove of selective colleges and universities taking prospective students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds into account when making admissions decisions. Fewer (33%) approve of colleges considering race and ethnicity to increase diversity at the schools, while 16% are not sure.
With the court nearing the end of its term and decisions in two related cases involving the private Harvard College and the public University of North Carolina expected to be issued in the next several weeks, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans are nearly three times as likely to say they strongly disapprove of colleges doing this (29%) as they are to say they strongly approve (11%).
Partisans express sharply different views on the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions
About three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (74%) say they disapprove of these practices, including 48% who strongly disapprove. Just 14% of Republicans approve of colleges considering students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds when making admissions decisions.
By contrast, a narrow majority of Democrats and Democratic leaners (54%) approve of colleges doing this, with 19% approving strongly. Around three-in-ten Democrats (29%) disapprove of the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions.
Substantial differences in views across racial and ethnic groups
Nearly half of Black Americans (47%) say they approve of colleges and universities considering prospective students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds when making admissions decisions, compared with 29% who disapprove (24% are not sure).
Among Hispanic Americans, identical shares approve and disapprove of these practices (39% each). Both White and Asian Americans are more likely to disapprove of colleges doing this (57% of White adults and 52% of Asian adults) than to approve (29% and 37%, respectively).
For more on Asian American attitudes: “Asian Americans Hold Mixed Views of Affirmative Action“
Effects of colleges considering race and ethnicity in admissions decisions
Fairness of the admissions process
The survey – conducted from March 27 to April 2, 2023, among 5,079 members of the Center’s American Trends Panel – finds that Americans are more than twice as likely to say that the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions makes the overall admissions process less fair (49%) rather than more fair (20%); 17% say this does not affect the process.
Accepted students’ qualifications
While nearly four-in-ten say that students accepted to colleges that engage in these practices are neither more nor less qualified than they would be otherwise, a third say the students are less qualified. Just 11% say that students accepted to these schools are more qualified than they would be if no consideration were given to prospective students’ racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Students’ educational experiences
Opinion is more closely divided on whether students’ educational experiences are better or worse at schools that consider the race and ethnicity of applicants, with nearly identical shares saying that students’ experiences are better (27%) and worse (26%).
Ensuring equal opportunity for Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds
The public is slightly more likely to say that colleges and universities doing this is good (36%) rather than bad (31%) for ensuring equal opportunity for Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Other important findings from the survey
College graduates hold more favorable attitudes about the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions.
- By almost two-to-one, those without college degrees are more likely to disapprove than approve of selective colleges and universities considering race and ethnicity in admissions decisions (52% disapprove vs. 28% approve). In contrast, college graduates are about evenly split (45% approve, 47% disapprove).
- Black, Hispanic and White college graduates are all more likely to approve of these practices than nongraduates of the same racial or ethnic background.
There are large differences between White and Hispanic Republicans in views about race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions.
- White Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of colleges considering the race and ethnicity of applicants: 78% disapprove, including 51% who strongly disapprove. A smaller share of Hispanic Republicans (55%) disapprove.
- Among Democrats, differences by race and ethnicity are more modest.
Most who support considering race and ethnicity in admissions say it is good for equal opportunity, while most opponents say it makes the admissions process less fair.
- About three-quarters of approvers (73%) say this is good for ensuring equal opportunity for all Americans, and 61% say it makes students’ educational experiences at these schools better.
- Among those who disapprove of schools taking race and ethnicity into account in admissions, 78% say it makes the admissions process less fair overall, while narrow majorities (55% each) say it makes the students accepted to these schools less qualified and that it is bad for ensuring equal opportunity.
Black Americans are more likely than those in other groups to report personal experiences with efforts to increase diversity.
- About a quarter of U.S. adults (24%) say they have personally been disadvantaged in their education or career by efforts to increase racial and ethnic diversity, while about one-in-ten (11%) say they have ever benefited from these efforts.
- Black Americans are more likely to report experiencing both of these: 35% say they have been disadvantaged by these efforts, while 20% say they have benefited (including 11% who say they have been both advantaged and disadvantaged). And while 15% of all Americans say that others have assumed they benefited unfairly from these efforts, 28% of Black adults say this has happened to them.