The administration issued a similar guidance document in 2016 aimed at giving schools a framework for "considering race to further the compelling interests in achieving diversity and avoiding racial isolation".
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) hammered the Trump administration on Tuesday for revoking federal guidelines that encourage colleges to consider race in their admissions determinations, calling the move an unveiled attack on minorities.
While the Supreme Court has affirmed the practice of affirmative action a couple of times, the issue could be revisited if Trump's Supreme Court nominee views the practice differently than his predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy.
But conservatives argue that these rulings could unfairly harm white and Asian college applicants.
"The law on this hasn't changed, and the Supreme Court has twice ruled reaffirming the importance of diversity", Anurima Bhargava, who led civil rights enforcement at the Justice Department during Obama's presidency, told the newspaper. The Education Department's action forecasts how much is at stake in the upcoming Supreme Court nomination process.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the changes an effort to restore the "rule of law", though civil rights groups decried the move and some universities said they meant to continue their diversity efforts as before. They were talking about when schools and colleges and universities want to try and promote diversity amongst their student body and how they are able to do that.
The policy represents the official view of the federal government and schools that do not follow it could face action from the Justice Department or lose federal funding, it said. "But it could also change how past Supreme Court decisions are interpreted and say that schools can't rely just on race and need to present other ways of achieving their diversity goals".
Dramatic footage released of emaciated Thai boys in cave
After more than a week of around-the-clock searching, rescuers have found the missing 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach. That could take as long as months, however, given that Thailand's rainy season typically lasts through October.
The guidance documents were among 24 the Justice Department rescinded, claiming they were "unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law or otherwise improper".
McDonough said the action could have a chilling effect on colleges as they review their admission methods. "We still have all of the Supreme Court rulings that would influence how we handle this".
The Department of Justice is now investigating Harvard's use of race in admissions; specifically, whether the school is holding Asian-American students to a higher standard.
Students for Fair Admissions alleges that Harvard's rating system is stacked against Asian-Americans who tend to score lower on evaluations of personal traits, such as likability, even though their tests scores may be higher than those of other applicants and they participate in many extracurricular activities. It comes as the Trump administration continues its crackdown on immigration, including asylum seekers.
The studies were filed in Boston's federal court as both sides attempted to persuade a judge to end the suit before it reaches trial, which has been scheduled to start in October.