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The Real Damage from Racial Preferences in College Admissions

While race-based college admissions policies are justified as a way to help minorities, they seem to have the opposite effect.

by
Hans A. von Spakovsky

Bio

June 10, 2013 - 12:11 am

Racial preferences — i.e., discrimination — are usually touted as a way to help minorities. Often overlooked, however, is the harm they cause these same individuals.

Any day now, we will be getting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas on the constitutionality of the racial preferences practiced by the University of Texas in Austin in its admissions process. But there is another issue, quite apart from the constitutional issue over the unfair racial discrimination suffered by white and Asian students when Hispanic and black students with lower test scores and lower grades are accepted in their stead. It’s the fact that the resulting mismatch between such black and Hispanic students and the other students in their colleges causes lasting damage to their professional lives and careers.

Three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Todd Gaziano, Gail Heriot, and Peter Kirsanow, filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the Fisher case. Their Commission found “extensive empirical research” showing that “students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the bottom of the class are less likely to follow through” pursuing a major in science or engineering than other students with similar credentials “who attend schools where their credentials put them in the middle or top of the class.”

The Commission found the same thing to be true in law schools: “students, regardless of race, are less likely to graduate from law school and pass the bar if they are the beneficiaries of preferential treatment in admissions than if they attend a law school at which their entering academic credentials” are the same as other average students.

As the commissioners argued very persuasively in their brief, the actual evidence from colleges and universities nationwide shows that while race-based admissions policies have been justified by college administrators as a way to help minorities in higher education and their eventual entry into high-prestige, high-paying careers, they seem to have the opposite effect.

As the commissioners noted, “we now have fewer minority science and engineering graduates that we would have under race neutral admissions policies.” We also have “fewer minority college professors … and fewer minority lawyers,” and we have made it “more difficult for talented minority students to enter high-prestige careers.”

The reasons should be obvious to anyone who has gone through college. Students know how tough it is to keep up in classes where the other students are ahead of you in understanding and comprehending the subject. When the highest academic schools, the top-tier colleges, relax their admissions criteria to admit more minority students, then the second-tier schools that are one rung down on the academic ladder “must do likewise if they are to have minority students, too.” The same problem is passed on to third-tier schools.

The result is that certain minorities – blacks and Hispanics – “are overwhelmingly at the bottom of the distribution of entering academic credentials at most selective schools.” This results in minority students having qualifications well below that of the average student at their colleges.

While some very bright students may overcome that deficit and perform better than one might have expected given their credentials entering college, most, unfortunately, will earn grades that match their lower qualifications. This makes it much more difficult for such students to succeed, discouraging them and leading to higher dropout rates or transfers to less academically rigorous majors.

If colleges and universities stopped using racial preferences in admissions, then minority students would be accepted at schools where their credentials match those of other students. While a black or Hispanic student might be in the bottom of the class at a first-tier school where he was accepted with lower credentials than other students, he might be an honor student at a second-tier school where the average performance of students more clearly matches his own.

As the commissioners noted, the empirical research shows that students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle or the top of the class are more likely to persevere and ultimately succeed than “otherwise identical students” attending a more elite school where their credentials put them in the bottom of the class.

Minority attrition in science is a major problem, and the research shows that this is due to mismatched students: “student with credentials more than one standard deviation below their science peers at college are about half as likely to end up with science bachelor degrees, compared with similar students attending schools where their credentials are much closer to, or above, the mean credentials of their peers.” The story is similar in other majors.

In 2003, when the Grutter v. Bollinger decision was decided and the Supreme Court approved racial discrimination in admissions under certain narrow circumstances, evidence about the harmful effects of racial preferences wasn’t available. But it is now and as the commissioners pointed out, there is “no empirical research that challenges these findings.” In fact, “the evidence is quite devastating” that the use of race in college admissions causes lasting damage to minority students.

Racial discrimination in college admission is morally wrong and a violation of basic and fundamental principles of equal protection, whether it is in favor of certain students or against other students. The actual harm it causes to its supposed beneficiaries is yet another reason for the Supreme Court to stop such discrimination once and for all.

As Justice Stanley Mosk of the California Supreme Court  warned in 1976 in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (the California court’s judgment overturning the UC Davis admissions policy was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court but on narrower grounds), upholding such racial admissions policies “call for the sacrifice of principles for the sake of dubious expediency and would represent a retreat in the struggle to assure that each man and woman shall be judged on the basis of individual merit alone .”

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former counsel to the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Justice Department. He is the coauthor of the book “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk”.

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Top Rated Comments   
You forgot:

Running the executive branch of the federal government!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you want to end AA, just get the KKK and neo-Nazis to demand more of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (26)
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Probably need to look at the the surge in wealthy, recently arrived Blacks, in evaluating AAP results vs. goals in college admissions.

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-03-18/news/0703180344_1_black-immigrants-high-achieving-immigrants-biracial-couples

"About 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Gates and Guinier said, but somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of the black students were "West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples."

These folks could teach Obama, the civil rights division of Justice, the criminal black caucus and all left wingers a thing or two about the free market.
They recognized an opportunity and jumped in. God Bless them. Unlike America's non assimilated blacks, the foolish AAP was designed to help, these recent black immigrants will contribute to a better America!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is another more insidious consequence of Affirmative Action programs:
Once merit admissions are reduce to 'Judgement' admissions, the person making judgements is able to impose other selection criteria without need to explain by simply hiding the alternate under the AA blanket.
Specifically, Idealogical (and/ or subseptability to idealogical programming) admission allows the continuation of the Liberal Lie.
It is soooo easy?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A white woman, new to the community, asked for a referral to a primary care physician after her surgical question was resolved. She asked whether there were any black doctors available. After giving her the information on the one that existed, I asked why she had specified a black one. She explained that with the bias against black people, for one to have succeeded, he must be particularly good. Needless to say, this was before affirmative action. AA now would have given her reason to think otherwise.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My brothers Moe and Larry Hammed agree on this. AA is just another of the mechanisms for the "dumbing down" of our country. Talent is secondary to the myth of "equality" and we are a nation of victims.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Abolish AA? When will fake Indian white woman claim her minority status? The fake Indian is now a US senator. To misquote the AA president: if his gun control policy could save one life, we should pass his gun control. If AA can let one fake Indian prosper, we should have AA.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Affirmative Action has not resulted in education, it has resulted in brain washed, willing conspirators to bring down the United States of America.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wouldn't it be nice if the colleges and universities abolished AA because it does more harm than good, which these seekers of truth would conclude if they just looked at the results; and if the SCOTUS struck it down, not on practical grounds, from which it might be revived in another guise, but upon Constitutional grounds, which is proper and conclusive, and is their proper role?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Who would you rather have:

Flying the airplane you're riding on
Operating on your heart
Designing the bridge you are driving over
Teaching your children

The most qualified by means of performance, test scores and grades. Or a person who is the recipient of an affirmative action give-away?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not so simple to answer. Just because someone performed well in high school doesn't mean that scholastic performance will translate to one's occupation.

Professions are also self regulating. Pilots and Doctors not only have to pass certifications but also re-certify.

I spent a decent amount of time with architects and lawyers who went to city colleges and could run rings around their ivy-league colleagues in court or on the job site.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You forgot:

Running the executive branch of the federal government!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As we are seeing, THAT doesn't take a Mensa candidate.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's beginning to look like the only qualification required to run the government is the ability to fog a mirror when it's placed under the person's nose.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
An absolute must qualification: read the Teleprompter "eloquently".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The simple truth is that we cannot make up for the sins of the past by committing sins of the present. There is no way to compensate the victims of slavery by creating more 'victims' inthe present. The whites and Asians who are victimized today in the name of affirmative action are just as much a 'victim' of a 'racist' society as those who are compensated in the name of their forebears.

We now have, with the blessings of a guilty Congress and Supreme Court, millions of whites and Asians who have suffered the prejudices of a governmental policy that should never have been instituted. Dred Scott has been deemed a vile decision by history, but I dare say that affirmative action has violated the promise of the American Dream even more so, because it has been implemented despite the guarantees of the 14th Amendment.

We cannot redeem the past by creating more inequity in the present. We only create more people with a sense of entitlement and more citizens who feel 'victimized' by their government. But these sentiments were expressed at the time the policy came into effect in the 1960s, the decade of irresponsibility.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"We only create more people with a sense of entitlement ... ."

That's a feature, not a bug.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
my kids standardized test scores, grades, and subsequent work out of school , were, to be an immodest parent, pretty darn good. Didn't check the 'hispanic' preciesely because her skin is light enough that she didnt need to here from people like pjers telling her what she and cant achive and if she is a lazy hispanic or not.

I innocently argued no, all white people, like me arent like that. i guess they are.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Do you really think laziness has much to do with it? I don't know many lazy latinos. The people I know work hard.

Schools are obsessed with "trying hard." In fact, if you are not trying hard (however that is determined), you are in for it. It doesn't matter if you have the top score in a subject in the entire school district. If they didn't think you tried hard, they will pass the award to someone else. Ask my son about it. You either know the information or you don't. What does "laziness" or "trying hard" have to do with it?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This puts me in mind of the first era of academic quotas, back in the '40s and '50s, when the children/grandchildren of immigrants began applying in large numbers to the Ivy League. Before that time, it was all about academic performance, but when "too many Jews" were qualifying, suddenly the top priorities became "leadership" and "well-roundedness" (generally taking the form of athletic championships and club memberships). Then came our present era of compensation for the unfairness of the past - and suddenly Jews became just another clump of "white privilege." Go figure.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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