Affirmative Steps to Welcome Everyone
By Quentin R. Johnson, Ph.D.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that disallowed affirmative action in the admissions policies of some of our nation’s institutions of higher learning. The recent decision specifically examined practices at Harvard College in Massachusetts and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
According to a court document, “Both Harvard and UNC employ a highly selective admissions process to make their decisions. Admissions to each school can depend on a student’s grades, recommendation letters, or extracurricular involvement. It can also depend on their race.”
In a pair of decisions, the Court determined, “Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The practice of affirmative action in college admissions can be traced back to the 1950s when the Court first ruled against race-based segregation in public education. Racial classifications considered in a positive manner were permitted when the intent was to help institutions overcome the effects of past segregation. In more recent years, the Court has emphasized the educational value of diversity on campuses because diversity encourages understanding across racial barriers, helps break down race-based stereotypes, promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students to enter the professional world.
If the objective is to offer quality education to a diverse student body, Virginia’s community colleges can serve as an example. A recent assessment across the Commonwealth’s 23 community colleges found that white students made up approximately half of the student population and those who identified with other racial or ethnic groups represented the other half. This level of diversity seems representative of Virginia’s demographic makeup.
Matthew S. Dunn, Career and Transfer Counselor at Southside Virginia Community College, explains some of the policies that have helped community colleges attain this important goal. First, he says, “There is no upfront cost to applying for anyone.” After that, admission is assured. With the one small exception of people who are registered with Virginia State Police as sexual offenders, “Everyone is accepted.”
Students do not need to gather recommendation letters. There is no litmus test that awards bonus points for specific extracurricular activities. No preferences are given to children of alumni or relatives of donors. There is no extra benefit or detriment given to students who belong to certain racial, ethnic, religious, or gender-based groups. There are no required admissions tests. College Navigators simply use information, such as a student’s high school grades and level of math achievement, to help determine a comfortable starting point.
For students who hope to complete their education journeys at one of Virginia’s selective senior institutions, community colleges can help smooth the way. Mr. Dunn explains, “We have Guaranteed Acceptance Agreements with 35 of Virginia’s four-year institutions. If a student finishes the two-year Associate of Arts and Sciences degree and meets or exceeds the minimum grade point average set by the institution, and they apply on time, they are accepted.
Furthermore, a new platform for transfer students, called Transfer VA, is in development. Its objective is to have two tracks, one in humanities and the other in STEM-H, which is Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Health, that would be universally accepted by all four-year partners.”
At SVCC and at all of Virginia’s community colleges, everyone, absolutely everyone, is welcome. Always. The doors are open and opportunity awaits. Visit southside.edu for more information.
Dr. Quentin R. Johnson is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the City of Emporia. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.