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Back to November Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 298 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 2010

Not That Kind of Diversity
It is generally understood that college professors and administrators touting the educational benefits of "diversity" within a given student population are referring to ensuring a certain proportion of "underrepresented" racial minorities, particularly blacks. A recent study by two Princeton sociologists quantified the racial bias that elite universities demonstrate in their admissions policies, and also uncovered a bias against students who participate in "Red state" extracurricular activities.

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Researchers Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford drew on the National Study of College Experience to analyze admissions data from eight elite colleges and universities, both public and private. The data represent 245,000 applicants from three separate academic years. Confidentiality agreements prohibit the researchers from naming the highly competitive schools, but the schools' statistical profiles fit squarely within the top 50 schools as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.

At 576 pages, the Espenshade/Radford study is extensive, but Russell Nieli, lecturer in the Politics Department at Princeton University, extracted three salient findings in an essay posted at the Minding the Campus website. First, blacks have an extraordinary advantage over other applicants, other background factors being equal. "To have the same chances of gaining admission as a black student with an SAT score of 1100, an Hispanic student otherwise equally matched in background characteristics would have to have a 1230, a white student a 1410, and an Asian student a 1550," noted Nieli.

Second, economic and educational disadvantages improve the odds of admission for non-whites, but don't help lower-class whites who would be the first in their families to attend college. Nieli observed that "lower-class Asian applicants are seven times as likely to be accepted to the competitive private institutions as similarly qualified whites, lower-class Hispanic applicants eight times as likely, and lower-class blacks ten times as likely."

The diversity that lower-class whites bring to campus is apparently not valued by elite institutions. Espenshade and Radford suggest that class-based affirmative action exists for every group except whites because schools want to reserve their limited scholarship funds for students who will improve their racial minority statistics. Nieli goes further in offering an explanation for why poor, equally qualified whites aren't even offered admission without financial aid. He surmises that schools don't want to lower their rating with organizations like U.S. News and World Report. Schools that accept students who don't end up enrolling because they can't afford elite schools without financial assistance lose points in ranking calculations.

Third, the all-important extracurricular activities that give students an edge over their peers don't apply to Red State kinds of activities like 4-H. As a rule, students who participate in community service, the performing arts and organizations associated with "cultural diversity" are given preference by admissions officers, especially when applicants have held leadership roles or received honors. However, being an officer or winning an award with Future Farmers of America, 4-H, or high school ROTC lowers the odds of admission by a whopping 60 to 65%, according Espenshade and Radford. This finding, suggests Nieli, is difficult to explain "other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias."

New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat (7-18-10) pointed out that the under-representation of working-class whites from conservative regions in the nation's top schools has important consequences: "Inevitably, the same under-representation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts." (www.mindingthecampus.com, 7-12-10)


 
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