Elite colleges confronting failure of affirmative action

A new report from researchers at Georgetown University must be horrifying diversicrats at elite colleges and universities. The report's title, "Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege," gives away the conclusion of the study.  Despite all the efforts at affirmative action, as a whole, the top tier of colleges is making racial inequality worse, rather than better.

An article by Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Education, the trade journal of the college biz, summarizes the findings:

The report's assertion that African-American and Latino youth -- especially those from low-income backgrounds -- are underrepresented at the nation's 468 most selective four-year colleges and overrepresented at the 3,250 open-access two- and four-year institutions will probably surprise few; that's a circumstance of long standing.

But it surprised even the lead researcher, Anthony Carnevale, a grizzled expert on educational access and equity, to find that the situation steadily worsened from 1994 to 2009 -- even, importantly, when comparing minority and white students with similar academic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather than function to reverse gaps generated by inequities in K-12 education and housing and health, Carnevale says, higher education is now serving as a "capstone" that exacerbates those other mechanisms.

"The postsecondary system mimics and magnifies the racial and ethnic inequality in educational preparation it inherits from the K-12 system and then projects this inequality into the labor market," write Carnevale and his co-author, Jeff Strohl. Carnevale is director, and Strohl director of research, of Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.

"More college completion among white parents brings higher earnings that fuel the intergenerational reproduction of privilege by providing more highly educated parents the means to pass their educational advantages on to their children," they write. "Higher earnings buy more expensive housing in the suburbs with the best schools and peer support for educational attainment. The synergy between the growing economic value of education and the increased sorting by housing values makes parental education the strongest predictor of a child's educational attainment and future earnings. As a result, the country also has the least intergenerational educational and income mobility among advanced nations." [emphasis added]

The key word is "completion."  Systematic mismatching of students - because affirmative action preferences place black and Hispanic students in schools they are not equipped to compete in - drives a lower graduation rate.  Sooner or later, history will note that affirmative action deeply damaged the progress blacks were already making in the pre-civil rights era. At that point we can expect Republicans to be identified with the policy failure, because it was an executive order by President Nixon that instituted the first AA policies, initially intended to reach out, rather than give preferences.

A further thought:

In my opinion, the real motive for affirmative action in higher education is not helping the target minorities, it is helping the college look good and feel good. Too few minorities, and a school will start getting branded as racist.

This view is supported by an expression used by the report's principal author to describe a target group of minority potential applicants  that elite colleges could target: "low-hanging fruit."

A question: when you pick an apple, who benefits? You or the apple?


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