Ten reasons to end affirmative action in college admissions

by Grace

Economics professor Mark J. Perry summarized tengood reasons we should end racial profiling and affirmative discrimination in college admissions”.

1. Racial and ethnic preferences are unjust — reason enough to abandon them.

2. They serve to perpetuate, rather than combat, racial stereotypes.

3. They encourage gaming the system (as when Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American).

4. They permit students from certain groups to coast in high school knowing they will get an automatic golden ticket to college.

5. They encourage intergroup resentment.

6. They result in what Stuart Taylor Jr. and Richard Sander have rightly called “mismatching” students — so that all but the very top minority students wind up attending schools that are a little out of their league.

7. Mismatching causes more minority students to abandon demanding majors like science and technology (so necessary for the economy’s flourishing).

8. Mismatch causes minority students to drop out in numbers far higher than other students. Black students are about a third more likely than similarly qualified other students to start college, but less likely to finish.

9. Admissions officers at selective schools pretend they are offering opportunity to “underserved” minorities, but in reality, they are simply lowering standards for already-privileged students with the preferred skin tone. Ninety-two percent of blacks at elite colleges are from the top half of the income distribution. A study a decade ago at Harvard Law School found that only a third of students had four African-American grandparents. Another third were from interracial families. The rest were children of recent immigrants from Africa or the West Indies.

10. Should mixed-race students get half a preference? Should their scores be 50 percent higher than students with two black parents? These are the kinds of absurdities our current system presents.

Speaking as a minority who may have benefited from affirmative action, I agree with these reasons.  I guess that means my views are more aligned with those of Justice Clarence Thomas than with those of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The “absurdities” mentioned in reason 10 makes me wonder how workable future affirmative action policies will be as we see higher percentages of mixed-race students enter college.

Related:  Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action (Cost of College)

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23 Comments to “Ten reasons to end affirmative action in college admissions”

  1. With regards to 6 and 7, the research shows that students from poor backgrounds (which are disproportionately minority) tend to undermatch, not overmatch. http://advocacy.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/12b_6264_CollegeKeys_Brief_revise_WEB_120719.pdf

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  2. Yes, undermatching is a problem also. I believe the College Board is working with Caroline Hoxby to address that issue. Both under- and over-matching hurt minority students.

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  3. “The “absurdities” mentioned in reason 10 makes me wonder how workable future affirmative action policies will be as we see higher percentages of mixed-race students enter college.”

    I think it is going to be a problem.

    There are people like Rashida Jones who are honestly biracial, but 1) come from a fairly privileged background and 2) don’t really register as African-American.

    Until I saw it mentioned, I had no idea she had any African ancestry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashida_Jones

    “Hispanic” is already a problem, in that it covers 100% European ancestry people who face pretty much no racial prejudice at all in the US (or at least no more than Italian-Americans do), as well as people who are very privileged in their home countries.

    I don’t like the idea of socioeconomic affirmative action, though, as it’s pretty much the institutionalization of the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

    http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/jokes/monty-python-four-yorkshiremen.html

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  4. Increasingly, colleges are giving men the benefit of affirmative action, as they struggle to keep a 50-50 gender balance. Do you think that is OK?

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  5. Giving men the benefit of affirmative action? I can see it makes sense for colleges afraid that they will evolve to all or mostly women, but it has its issues also. Now after reading AmyP’s comment, I wonder how future gender bending will affect M/F ratio calculations.

    I see the benefits of a diversified student body, but the specifics of how it is accomplished are tricky, to say the least. So in the case of race-based affirmative action, I find it hard to accept many of the “unintended” consequences.

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  6. That’s a somewhat different situation because while on the one hand, yay, meritocracy!, on the other hand gender affirmative action improves the social life of students of the other sex. If you are a woman that doesn’t get admitted because they wanted a warm male body instead, that’s bad for you, but if you are a woman who does get in to that school and are able to experience a more evenly divided gender mix (thanks to discrimination against other women), you have benefited a lot.

    And this would work in the other direction for technical schools with few women. On the one hand, it’s sad to be a qualified guy who doesn’t get into Carnegie Mellon. On the other hand, if you are a guy who gets into Carnegie Mellon, if the college has brought in some more women, life will be a little less weird and sad. And after graduation, those guys will be less likely to do creepy stuff with women at work that will get them fired. There is a racial parallel to that, of course, but I suspect that it’s easier in the case to just give a list of “do nots”. Being appropriate with members of the opposite sex requires a lot more practice.

    A lot of the social hell of university life today is caused by the shortage of male students. There’s been at least one study on how the gender splits drive the dating style at colleges. If there are too many female students, dating dies. (All things being equal, of course.)

    “Using a nationally-representative sample of college women, we evaluate the effect of campus sex ratios on women’s relationship attitudes and behaviors. Our results suggest that women on campuses where they comprise a higher proportion of the student body give more negative appraisals of campus men and relationships, go on fewer traditional dates, are less likely to have had a college boyfriend, and are more likely to be sexually active.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3130599/

    I believe similar social issues are in play with college discrimination against Asians. There’s a fear that having too many Asians (no matter how brilliant their paper credentials) will kill campus culture.

    I understand why college administrators put their fingers on the scale like this, but of course it makes me queasy.

    Maybe the rule should be that public colleges should stick to academic credentials while private colleges should feel free to go crazy and create the artificial social biome of their choice?

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  7. Grace and CSProfMom,

    You would be in a much better position to know this than me, but am I right in thinking that men in technical fields are in particular need of help with regard to being appropriate and professional with women (and other intelligent carbon-based life forms)?

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  8. Not sure I see the difference. Favoring men will improve the social life at a college, perhaps, but colleges already make a similar argument for favoring blacks and Hispanics – that a diverse student body teaches everyone how to interact with a diverse population. Personally, I think all of this is tricky, but if we accept the right of a college to “shape its student body” as they always say, in any way, form, or fashion, then I think race and ethnic background is equally valid. If you accept that men, violinists, and legacies should be favored because they bring something interesting and useful to the student body, then you have to accept that a black kid from Bed Stuy or a Native American from the Navajo reservation also have sometihng unique to bring.

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  9. I wonder if that fits with the mission of the public university, though?

    I would hate to have to explain a lot of this social topiary project to the average middle class taxpaying mom or dad who wants to know why their kid didn’t get into State U. with the appropriate grades and test scores. It’s a lot easier to just say, “Sorry, missed it by 100 SAT points. Try transferring in a year,” rather than “I’m sorry–we’re full up on violin-and-cello playing Asian kids.”

    (State U. still has a fair number of athletes, of course. I remember back in the 90s when there was a lot of boohooing over a 700 SAT minimum for basketball players.)

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  10. “social topiary project” Good way to describe it, and some mistakes are bound to occur.

    “a black kid from Bed Stuy or a Native American from the Navajo reservation also have sometihng unique to bring”

    In fact, the student is less likely to be from Bed Stuy than from Westchester County. “Racial preferences mostly benefit fairly privileged students of color; ”

    http://costofcollege.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/racial-preferences-mostly-benefit-fairly-privileged-students-of-color/

    So is it fair that the half-Latino privileged kid from Westchester gets preference over an accomplished poor white kid from Kentucky? When schools try all this mandated social engineering, the results often end up to be quite different from what was intended. It’s tricky.

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  11. “am I right in thinking that men in technical fields are in particular need of help with regard to being appropriate and professional with women”

    Having worked in two different male-dominated areas — oil business and “Wall Street” — I’d say the business and marketing types needed more help than the science nerd types. But that’s just me.

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  12. Grace said:

    “In fact, the student is less likely to be from Bed Stuy than from Westchester County. “Racial preferences mostly benefit fairly privileged students of color”

    The irony of it is that if you’re privileged enough to be able to take full advantage of affirmative action (and other special minority-directed support), you’re probably not that disadvantaged.

    My sister’s best friend at our small town rural high school was eligible for some very nice financial support for college, as she had one American Indian grandmother from one of our local tribes. (She herself just looked brunette.) Did she go to college? Nope. Of course, a lot of 100% white girls from our town didn’t go to college at the time, either. (In my class, I did a count at the time, and I believe something like exactly 10% of my graduating class went straight to a four-year college.)

    “So is it fair that the half-Latino privileged kid from Westchester gets preference over an accomplished poor white kid from Kentucky? When schools try all this mandated social engineering, the results often end up to be quite different from what was intended. It’s tricky.”

    1. The half-Latino privileged kid from Westchester probably is more accomplished (or at least has been more rigorously cultivated). He is more of a proven quantity.

    2. On the other hand, the private college admissions people do engage in some geographical balancing, too, so Kentucky may be a large bonus.

    “Having worked in two different male-dominated areas — oil business and “Wall Street” — I’d say the business and marketing types needed more help than the science nerd types. But that’s just me.”

    Aha. I’m thinking Michael Scott, the boss from “The Office.”

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  13. I think admissions would probably want both of those hypothetical applicants pretty badly (all things being equal). “Poor kid from Kentucky” would probably tug their heartstrings.

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  14. Poor white kids from Kentucky definitely get extra consideration in the admissions process, at least at Northeastern schools. It was that way when I went to college, and it is still that way. I am certain it helped me get into a better school. Right now, the group with the worst odds in the college admission process are Asian girls from Westchester County or Long Island.

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  15. Here’s another thought, specifically on the American Indian issue.

    When I was in grade school, there was a fair number of reservation kids in my classes (I think there were probably three or four reservations that our public school district was serving). But, starting around 7th grade, they nearly all disappeared. It was a mystery at the time, but then at the end of high school, I noticed that a bunch of them had magically reappeared for graduation. The solution to that mystery was that a lot of those kids had been going not to the normal high school, but to the alternative school for a number of years. Needless to say, the alternative school was not going to provide a rigorous college prep program, so anybody who went that route would be poorly placed to take advantage of affirmative action and a scholarship if they could get them. As a matter of fact, they’d probably struggle pretty hard at the community college.

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  16. CSProfMom said:

    “Right now, the group with the worst odds in the college admission process are Asian girls from Westchester County or Long Island.”

    Gah.

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  17. “alternative school”

    Another edu-jargon term that may not mean what parents think it means. I know I used to think it was a nice alternative to traditional high school that students could choose before I learned the real meaning.

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  18. I think the luckiest Asian girls may be those with names like “Lee” or “Park” that don’t necessarily reveal their ethnicity. This mixed-race high school graduate (black/Asian) chose to identify herself only as black when applying to college.

    http://costofcollege.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/strategic-race-selection-for-college-admissions/

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  19. “I think the luckiest Asian girls may be those with names like “Lee” or “Park” that don’t necessarily reveal their ethnicity.”

    With that strategy, you’d need to write the application pretty carefully to avoid any tells like knowledge of Mandarin or Asian travel.

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  20. I think most admissions officers these days assume a Lee is Chinese or Korean, and a Park is Korean. ANd as AmyP says, the kid would have to tiptoe around the essay to keep it from coming out.

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  21. “Right now, the group with the worst odds in the college admission process are Asian girls from Westchester County or Long Island.”

    How about the adopted girls of Asian ancestry who grew up in non-Asian environments, and thus without the benefit of Tiger Moms, when they have to check a box for race?

    If the box is for ethnicity, then they could check the box reflective of their upbringing.

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  22. “If the box is for ethnicity, then they could check the box reflective of their upbringing.”

    And for those adopted kids of Hispanic ancestry, be sure to check the box that reflects their birth parent’s ethnicity. Gotta work the system.

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  23. CSProfMom said:

    “ANd as AmyP says, the kid would have to tiptoe around the essay to keep it from coming out.”

    And jettison a lot of their qualifications in the process.

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