The Walls around Opportunity: The Failure of Colorblind Policy for Higher Education

The case for race-conscious education policy


Apr 16, 2024
6.13 x 9.25 in.
6 b/w illus. 4 tables.
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In our unequal society, families of color fully share the dream of college but their children often attend schools that do not prepare them, and the higher education system gives the best opportunities to the most privileged. Students of color hope for college but often face a dead end.

For many young people, racial inequality puts them at a disadvantage from early childhood. The Walls around Opportunity argues that colorblind policies have made college inaccessible to a large share of students of color, and reveals how policies that acknowledge racial inequalities and set racial equality goals can succeed where colorblindness has failed.

Gary Orfield paints a troubling portrait of American higher education, explaining how profound racial gaps imbedded in virtually every stage of our children’s lives pose a major threat to communities of color and the nation. He describes how the 1960s and early 1970s was the only period in history to witness sustained efforts at racial equity in higher education, and how the Reagan era ushered in today’s colorblind policies, which ignore the realities of color inequality. Orfield shows how this misguided policy has resegregated public schools, exacerbated inequalities in college preparation, denied needed financial aid to families, and led to huge price increases over decades that have seen little real gain in income for most Americans.

Now with a new afterword that discusses the 2023 Supreme Court decision to outlaw affirmative action in college admissions, this timely and urgent book shows that the court’s colorblind ruling is unworkable in a society where every aspect of opportunity and preparation is linked to race, and reveals the gaps in the opportunity pipeline while exploring the best ways to address them in light of this decision.