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What The Affirmative Action Guidelines Change Means


This week, the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines on affirmative action from the Obama era. Those guidelines encouraged the consideration of race in admissions at schools and universities. Trump officials, instead, are promoting a race-neutral approach. We wanted to know how the Trump administration's announcement will affect college admissions. Jon Boeckenstedt is an associate vice president at DePaul University in Chicago. He oversees undergraduate admissions there. He joins us now from Naperville, Ill. Thank you very much for joining us.

JON BOECKENSTEDT: It's my pleasure to be here, Linda. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: So what is your reaction to the Trump administration's decision to revoke the Obama guidelines?

BOECKENSTEDT: Well, I don't think it will have much effect on colleges and universities in the short term. And in fact, a few university systems have already come out and said that they're not going to change anything that they're doing currently with the admissions process. As long as the recent Supreme Court decisions are still the law of the land, colleges are not obligated to follow any of the guidelines issued by the administration.

WERTHEIMER: But there's the possibility, I assume, that this tells you which way the administration is heading.

BOECKENSTEDT: I think it's pretty clear, and it's probably no surprise to anybody who's looked at what's going on in Washington that there is sort of a leaning or an orientation toward reducing or eliminating the use of race in college admissions.

WERTHEIMER: You do take race into account now. You're allowed to and you do, as I understand it.

BOECKENSTEDT: That's correct. The Supreme Court has been pretty clear about what we cannot do and less clear about how far we can go in considering race. So, for instance, quotas have never been considered legal in our system. But using race and ethnicity as one factor in a series of factors in a holistic admissions process is in fact the law of the land and still completely legal. And colleges and universities, at least the ones I've talked to, have indicated they'll keep doing that.

WERTHEIMER: Some college leaders have suggested that so far this is just guidance, and it's not law, and they're not changing anything. Do you worry at all that the Trump administration might object to that?

BOECKENSTEDT: Well, I think they can object. I'm not sure that they have any recourse to unilaterally change the law of the land and certainly no recourse to change the Supreme Court decisions which have said the way colleges and universities do it now is completely legal. But certainly with the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice and Anthony Kennedy being the swing vote on previous college admissions decisions, I think there is some concern among college leaders that we may deal with a new reality within a few years. And that's troubling to some people, and I think people are already sort of planning and thinking about what happens if in fact the Supreme Court decisions are reversed.

WERTHEIMER: Jon Boeckenstedt is the associate vice president of enrollment management and marketing - that's quite a title - at DePaul University. Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Boeckenstedt.

BOECKENSTEDT: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.