The Trump administration is moving to rescind Obama-era guidelines directing colleges on how best to consider race in admissions. Civil rights groups say the move would undermine affirmative action.

The Obama guidelines were designed to help colleges increase and promote racial diversity without using race alone.

Now the Trump administration wants to repeal those guidelines, saying the Obama administration went too far.

“The Supreme Court has determined what affirmative action policies are Constitutional, and the Court’s written decisions are the best guide for navigating this complex issue," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in the statement. "Schools should continue to offer equal opportunities for all students while abiding by the law.”

The decision, first reported in The Wall Street Journal, comes as the Justice Department investigates complaints that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants. Harvard spokeswoman Melodie Jackson told WGBH News that the university will, "continue to vigorously defend its right, and that of all colleges and universities, to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years."

The Trump administration has said it's committed to protecting "all Americans from illegal race-based discrimination."

Attorney Brenda Shum with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law says the administration is once again signaling that it does not support diverse learning environments.

“Affirmative action programs have benefited everyone in this country, particularly students of color but also women and girls," Shum said. "We know that increasing diversity on our college campuses is essential to dismantling decades of institutional racism and sexism."

Economist Tony Carnevale with Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts the Trump administration will have broad support.

“Especially if they frame the issue as one of whether or not one gets racial preferences and the public will support the elimination of those preferences," he said.

A widely-cited Gallup poll suggests a majority Americans believe admissions should be based on merit alone.

As recently as two years ago, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that race can be considered in college admissions if carefully done.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced last week he plans to retire, was the swing vote in that decision.

This article has been updated to include a statement from Harvard University.