NC Budget and Tax Center

Busting the myths about affirmative action

As the federal government moves to investigate the perceived harm that affirmative action has inflicted on white college hopefuls, it’s important to separate truth from fiction. This investigation is powered largely by myths. The truth is, people of color continue to face barriers to higher education and economic stability. And affirmative action hasn’t gone far enough in removing those barriers.

Myth: Affirmative action exclusively benefits people of color

Reality: Decades of data show that white women are the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action policies. So white women get the economic stability that comes with removing unjust barriers to success, but people of color continue to miss out.

Myth: People of color now make up the majority of college students

Reality: Harvard University recently made headlines because its incoming freshman class is less than 50 percent white for the first time in its history. However, most college and universities aren’t following that trend. And while the white-Latinx college enrollment gap has narrowed over the last decade, the white-Black enrollment gap has not. Higher education remains predominantly available to white people.

Myth: Affirmative action gives people of color a free ride to college

Reality: Nationwide, just under 40 percent of Black 25- to 55-year-olds carry student loan debt. The number drops to around 30 percent for Latinx and white people. But the incidence of student loan debt isn’t the sole issue. There’s also a wide racial gap in average debt amounts. Black students and their families incur twice as much student loan debt upon graduation. According to a 2016 Brookings Institute report, four years after graduation the Black-white debt gap more than triples from $7,400 to $24,720.

Instead of intergenerational wealth, communities of color are more likely to suffer intergenerational debt. And as North Carolina tuition costs continue to rise, this problem will worsen and the barriers to racial equity will grow.

Nearly two-thirds of North Carolina college graduates collect student loan debt along with their degrees. Meanwhile, state funding for public universities has declined since 2008, which puts the burden of funding on tuition-paying students and their families. And the debt amounts bear that burden out. Over the past 10 years, the average student loan debt has increased from roughly $16,000 to $25,000. Meanwhile the median income in our state has barely budged.

So while the federal government continues to question minority students’ presence in colleges, those same students are increasingly getting priced out of a college education and the ladder to the middle class that that education used to provide.

Marion Johnson is a Policy Advocate with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.

Check Also

Illinois makes the right choice, expands EITC in new budget deal

The Illinois state legislature just passed a budget ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

This story has been updated with comments from Jim Womack, who did not respond earlier to questions. [...]

For the 18 months, Gary Brown has been traveling through northeastern North Carolina like an itinera [...]

It will be at least another month before state Superintendent Mark Johnson can take over at the helm [...]

Eric Hall, in the midst of a rainy drive to rural Robeson County to pitch North Carolina’s ambitious [...]

5---number of days since Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham unveiled a new proposal to repeal [...]

The post The stench of hate speech appeared first on NC Policy Watch. [...]

When a Navy recruiter visited his high school, Carlos was among those students eager to sign up. In [...]

Website with ties to Civitas Institute promotes anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein There [...]

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more


NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more