Racially based affirmative action policies make college admissions a less inclusive and egalitarian process. What seems like a noble way to rectify institutional injustice, past and present, is in actuality a vicious means of perpetuating classism and racial exclusion. Instead of focusing on race, schools should use admissions policies that factor in the total assets of a family and secondary-school attendance. This would allow disadvantaged students to compete with their more privileged counterparts.
Sociologist William Julius Wilson observes that when preferential policies are designed to assign a just distribution of advantages to groups, the most privileged members of these groups gain the majority of the benefits. These affluent individuals are predominantly chosen for preferred positions like well-paying jobs or college admission spots.
Policies that focus on reducing racial disparities are harmful to the poor from every racial group but especially those from underrepresented groups that preferential policies attempt to help. Race-based affirmative action ends up denying many deserving people from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to go to an elite university.
Historical racial oppression, in and of itself, does not warrant priority standing in the admissions process. If oppression manifests itself in socio-economic disadvantages for a person of color, then they should have an advantage, but giving wealthy black or Hispanic students from well-funded secondary schools advantages over poor and middle-class whites and Asians is not justifiable. Poor whites and Asians have a small fraction of the resources available to upper-class minorities. Scoring a 32 on the ACT from a low-wealth home and community is much more indicative of merit than scoring a 35 as a child from a wealthy family. Contradictory to the goal of remedying current racial discrimination, race-based affirmative action does not help poor blacks or Hispanics who have the greatest exposure to current discriminatory institutions.
But many argue that affirmative action is meant to correct for past racial injustice. If this were the case then Asians, who faced academic, career, and immigration restrictions up until the late 1950s, would not be handicapped.
Unfortunately proponents brush these problems under the rug by arguing that the position of upper-class minority students as the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action is a benefit to struggling minorities. Similar to DuBois and his talented tenth, supporters of this argument believe that affluent minorities who gain entry into elite colleges will help lift the minority group through their leadership and example. But this idea fails for two reasons. First, what is to say that the poor minority student who lost out under race-conscious affirmative action wouldn’t have served just as effectively as a leader? Second, the argument is not backed up by evidence. For example, the number of black medical school graduates statistically does not have any effect on health care accessibility and affordability in low-income predominantly black communities.
Proponents of affirmative action argue that race factors into admissions minutely by serving as a tiebreaker in cases of equally qualified candidates. This belief is false. A 2004 Princeton study of over 124,374 applications to elite colleges found that on a 1600 point scale, black applicants received a boost equivalent to 230 extra SAT points, Hispanics received 185 points, and Asian applicants received a 50 point penalty. The adjusted score differential of 280 points between blacks and Asians is representative of the disparity between scoring in the 80th percentile nationally and the average admitted student at Harvard. Hardly a tiebreaker, race is a deciding factor in elite college admissions.
Affirmative action policies, in consequence, serve as quotas on Asian Americans. Ron Unz points that Asian-American representation at Ivy League colleges hasn’t increased between 1992 and 2011, despite the doubling of their college-age population. This restriction on Asian-American enrollment during their population growth has had a larger impact than Harvard’s 1925 Jewish quota.
Family wealth is a strong indicator of educational outcomes. A 2012 NBER study found that a $10,000 increase in home value during the high-school years increased the chance of attending a public flagship by 2.0 percent and decreased the probability of attending a community college by 1.6 percent. Using wealth as the socio-economic metric for admissions would ensure that poor minorities, who have not been able to accumulate assets, are competitive in the admissions process. Evaluating the secondary-school of an applicant would give colleges a better understanding of the educational opportunities available to the applicant and how effectively those opportunities were used. Across the nation, 7 percent of poor whites reside in poverty-stricken areas while that number is 23 percent for poor blacks. These areas more often than not have poorly funded schools that severely depress educational and professional outcomes.
Affirmative action is cruel and unsound in its reasoning. If we are genuinely concerned with social justice then it is an absolute necessity that this policy is replaced by wealth and school-based admissions criteria that will not disenfranchise poor students or other minority groups. Students who must overcome disadvantages because of race, in spite of their affluence, can communicate their experience through other means, such as an essay, without the necessity of classist and harmful policies.
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