Students Divided on Affirmative Action but Support College Diversity

A new BestColleges survey shows that while the majority of students believe racial/ethnic diversity improves the social and learning environment of schools, they are split on whether they support affirmative action.

Published October 19, 2022

Edited by Reece Johnson
Students Divided on Affirmative Action but Support College Diversity
Survey Reports
Photo by Kevin Dietsch / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images


Data Summary

  • Almost half of students (45%) agree that banning the use of race/ethnicity in college admissions is most fair. Only 24% disagree.
  • Over one-third (38%) of Black respondents support affirmative action and one-third (33%) are against it
  • A nearly equal number of white respondents are for (37%) or against (36%) affirmative action.
  • College men (40%) are more likely than college women (35%) to support affirmative action.
  • Over half of students (56%) believe colleges should take responsibility for increasing the representation of historically excluded groups on campus.
  • More BIPOC students (30%) than white students (24%) report negative impacts of race-conscious college admissions.
  • Roughly 1 in 3 (34%) trust the Supreme Court to make an appropriate decision on affirmative action.

At the end of October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for two lawsuits challenging the legality of race-based college admissions, also known as affirmative action.

BestColleges surveyed over 1,000 prospective and current undergraduate and graduate students to gauge their opinions on affirmative action and diversity on college campuses.

The survey reveals that an overwhelming majority of college students believe racial/ethnic diversity improves the social experience (62%) and learning environment (59%) of schools.

However, students are evenly split on the use of race/ethnicity as a factor in college admissions — 37% support affirmative action, while 35% do not.

Overall, a higher percentage of men (40%) support affirmative action than women (35%). Roughly one-third of both men (36%) and women (34%) are against affirmative action in college admissions.

Broken down by race/ethnicity, white students are split in their support with 37% for affirmative action and 36% against. Black students have a slightly more favorable opinion with over two-thirds (38%) in support and one-third (33%) in disagreement.

Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx respondents show the most support with 43% for affirmative action and 34% against.

Broken down by party, Democratic students clearly stand in support of affirmative action with 42% in favor and 29% in disagreement. Republican students are split down the middle with 38% in support and 38% against.

Over two-thirds (69%) of students who identify as Democrat agree that racial and ethnic diversity improves the social experience of college. Roughly 6 in 10 white (60%) and Black (59%) students also agree. An even higher percentage of Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx respondents (70%) say racial/ethnic diversity improves the social experience.

The question of whether racial and ethnic diversity improves the learning environment for students elicited a similar response. Roughly 6 in 10 white (60%), Black (58%), and Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx students (62%) agree with the statement.

Students Do Not Strongly Connect Diversity On Campus to Affirmative Action

Almost twice as many students agree (45%) than disagree (24%) that a system banning the use of race/ethnicity in college admissions is the most fair process.

But while students may be divided in their support of affirmative action, they do generally support improved diversity on campus.

Over half of students (56%) believe colleges should take responsibility for increasing the representation of historically excluded groups in their student bodies.

Less than one in six students (16%) disagree with the statement. Twice the number of Republicans are in support of the statement than against (44% vs. 22%), further emphasizing that both major political parties believe schools should be actively working to diversify their student bodies.

Students Unsure Whether Affirmative Action Impacts Them

Student opinion on affirmative action may be somewhat influenced by whether they believe it has positively or negatively impacted them. However, nearly half of respondents (49%) answer that they are unsure whether race-conscious admissions impacts them or that it does not or has not impacted them.

Almost a quarter of students (24%) report positive impacts from affirmative action and 27% report negative impacts.

BIPOC students are split in how affirmative action has affected them, with more BIPOC students (30%) than white students (24%) reporting negative impacts of race-conscious college admissions. BIPOC students are almost equally divided on whether they have been negatively or positively impacted (30% vs. 29%).

Students Again Split on Whether the Supreme Court Will Make the Right Choice

Overall, roughly 1 in 3 students (34%) respond they trust the U.S. Supreme Court to make an appropriate decision on race-conscious admissions at colleges and universities. Another 1 in 3 disagree (33%).

The percentages remain relatively consistent when broken down by race/ethnicity, with 36% of white, 31% of Black, and 36% of Hispanic, Latino/a, or Latinx respondents in agreement with the statement.

Slightly more Republicans than Democrats (44% vs. 38%) answer that they trust the U.S. Supreme Court to make an appropriate decision. However, more Democrats share that they trust the court to make an appropriate decision than distrust (38% vs. 34%).

Methodology

The survey was conducted from Sept. 28–Oct. 3, 2022, and was fielded by Pure Spectrum. Survey participants included 1,002 respondents nationwide who were currently enrolled in or planning to enroll in an on-campus or hybrid undergraduate or graduate degree program at a college or university in the next 12 months. Respondents were 16-59 years of age and currently pursuing or planning to pursue an associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The respondents for the survey were screened by various quality checks, including systems like Relevant ID, and responses were manually reviewed to ensure consistency and accuracy.