The guidance said that while race should not be the primary factor in an admission decision, schools could lawfully consider it in the interest of achieving diversity.
In June, the Office of Civil Rights in Department of Education restored a policy notice dated back to the Bush era which instructs all schools receiving federal financial assistance to strictly observe the relevant US Supreme Court rulings on the use of race in college admissions.
Vanita Gupta, who oversaw the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice under Obama, issued a statement saying the administration was failing in its duty to ensure the well being of all students.
The Trump administration is advising schools to avoid using race in admissions decisions.
The Trump administration contends that the Obama-era guidelines go far beyond what the Supreme Court has decided on in regard to affirmative action. Education secretary Betsy DeVos has also recently delayed the implementation of an Obama-era rule meant to address the disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities. Supreme Court cases are brewing including a case involving an Asian student and the allegation that Harvard University created policies that made it harder for Asian students to be admitted as compared to Hispanic or black students.
The Justice Department under President Donald Trump has been investigating a complaint by more than 60 Asian-American organizations that say Harvard University's policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.
Democrats slammed the news about doing away with the Obama-era policies. The Supreme Court has upheld race-conscious admission practices as recently as 2016, but affirmative action in higher education remains a contentious issue. He noted that administrative guidance does not carry the legal weight of court rulings or statutes enacted by Congress.
The action comes amid a high-profile court fight over Harvard University admissions that has attracted the government's attention, as well as Supreme Court turnover expected to produce a more critical eye toward schools' race-conscious admissions policies. They tell universities and colleges that it is acceptable to use race as a tool to achieve diversity.
"The Trump administration isn't just willfully blind to the reality of systemic racism - it's coldly indifferent to its destructive consequences, and it's absolutely committed to dismantling any efforts to address our nation's original sin", Democratic National Committe Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.
And in the final year of Barack Obama's presidency, the Supreme Court vindicated his administration's position.
"Yet again we see that this administration's goal and vision for "Making America Great Again" is to reduce the role of the state in making sure our society prizes diversity and inclusion", Richmond said in a statement.