Affirmative Action is the Wrong Solution

To insiders of today’s college admissions world, it’s well-known that certain students are favored for their race or socioeconomic status. This is due to Affirmative Action, a policy that helps improve opportunities for minorities. It allows college admissions staff to favor African American and Hispanic students, which improves diversity and helps them go to schools they might not otherwise get to attend.

Recent research indicates that socioeconomic status (SES) has a greater impact on school performance and college readiness than race. In fact, it is low SES, not race, that leads to poor SAT scores, poor grades, and poor overall college readiness. While Affirmative Action has been in place, millions in need have gone by the wayside, including the 11.6% of whites, 11.7% of Asians, and 17.6% of Native Hawaiian Islanders who are living in poverty.

Data from Frank Shyong, “For Asian Americans, a Changing Landscape on College Admissions”

Because of Affirmative Action, the SAT scores required for admission are lowered for these populations. In 1961, this was useful for helping minorities and improving diversity in higher education for the 42% of African Americans who were living in poverty. It’s no longer an effective strategy, because the more disadvantaged students today come from families of low socioeconomic status, not a certain race. The poverty rate for African Americans has fallen to 25%.This is higher than the poverty rates for whites, but Lisa Rosenberg claims that “economic disparities in educational opportunity today far exceed racial and ethnic disparities”.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “students from families with a low SES are less likely than those from families with a higher SES to obtain higher levels of postsecondary education”. Students from families with low SES status have lower graduation rates, grades, and SAT scores than their peers from families with higher SES. Publicly funded colleges and universities must have an obligation to help these students, for poverty strikes every race, not just a select few.

“Economic disparities in educational opportunity today far exceed racial and ethnic disparities” — Lisa Rosenberg, AACRAO

When one person living in poverty is not able to go to college, it creates a ripple effect throughout their lives and the lives of their children. College graduates, on average, make $17,500 more per year and 84% more in a lifetime than those with a high school diploma. In addition, a study at Georgetown University “estimated that 63% of American jobs will require some sort of postsecondary education or training by 2018”, but in the United States, only 41% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree. Children whose parents did not attend college are less likely to obtain a degree and make enough money to rise out of poverty, making this a multi-generational problem. Low SES students don’t stand a chance unless there is a system in place to assist them.

Postsecondary Attainment: Differences by Socioeconomic Status, by Ed NCES.

Some say that the best solution is to simply take race out of the equation by implementing race-blind admissions. They argue that all worthy applicants would have an equal chance regardless of race. This seems like an easy fix, but doesn’t help the intelligent students in this country who worked hard, but received lower grades and test scores and will have a harder time getting into college- whether they are of a minority race or not.

Race blind admissions also has a negative impact on diversity, as can be seen in California, where all public colleges have race blind admissions and “struggle to assemble student bodies that reflect the state’s demographic mix”. The African American admission rate is 4% at Berkeley, and the Class of 2016 is 46% Asian. These numbers don’t represent the general population at all.

Instead, admissions officers should admit a certain percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students. They should focus less on race while keeping it in the admissions formula in order to ensure that the student body resembles the general population. Some students of low SES are minorities, which will help admissions officers continue to promote diversity while taking into account the white and Asian students who need the same assistance.

When considering low-income students, one must also consider the fact that these students do not have the funds to attend college. Money can’t appear out of thin air, but there ways to increase the fairness of scholarship distribution.

“Economic disparities in educational opportunity today far exceed racial and ethnic disparities.” -Lisa Rosenberg, “Considering Economic Status in College Admissions”

Students in college pay tuition plus room, board, and fees. The amount their family is expected to pay toward that is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The difference between the EFC and the amount the student must pay is partially covered by need-based grants and merit scholarships. The “gap” that is left is up to the student to come up with.

Unfortunately, low-SES students aren’t getting enough scholarships to cover this gap, unlike their wealthier peers. According to Kim Clark of U.S. News, “The poorer the family, the bigger the gap between their aid and their need”. Meanwhile, more than 25% of students from the wealthiest 25% of families in the US get merit grants, surpassing their government-calculated need. That money could instead be given to low-SES students. Instead of awarding merit scholarships above and beyond a student’s need, schools should award merit scholarships up to a student’s demonstrated need then cut them off. This system still allows students to receive merit scholarships as well as need-based grants, but holds wealthier families accountable for their share of college tuition while allowing more money to be given to those who need it. It may not account for all the money students must pay, but it could improve the situation for many desperate students.

After all, the goal of universities should be education for those qualified enough to be admitted, not catering to the wealthiest of the applicants and those with certain skin tones. Poverty does not discriminate, and neither should we.