Supreme Courts Considers Affirmative Action, but . . .

Barry Lenson

Supreme Courts Considers Affirmative Action, but . . .

The Supreme Court is considering affirmative action today. That policy, which has been used by American colleges and universities for decades, gives preferential admissions status to students of color, Hispanic-Americans and other applicants who were once viewed as “minorities” in America.

There is no doubt that over the years, affirmative action has afforded countless students – those who have not had access to top-notch high school experiences or the resources to hire professional SAT tutors – an entryway to college and success later in life. Whether affirmative action is still needed is an important and complex issue to address.

But let’s be fair. If affirmative action is under scrutiny, we should be looking at these admissions policies too...

  • Preferential admissions to athletes. Many colleges admit athletes who are less qualified than other students. At many schools, those athletes stand a better chance of getting scholarships too. Is that fair? You decide.
  • Legacy admissions. The children of alumni – especially alumni who donate a lot of money to their alma maters – traditionally have a better chance of getting into the schools their parents attended. Other qualified students get turned away.
  • Preference for students who do not apply for financial aid. This is an “open secret” in college admissions offices just about everywhere. Well-qualified students whose parents can pay full tuition are the “plum” applicants that colleges are dying to admit, and they enjoy an advantage. This policy is well documented in the book Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites by Mitchell L. Stevens.
  • Admission of less qualified male applicants. This is another “open secret” at competitive co-ed schools. To make sure that admitted classes are made up of 50% men and 50% women, schools lower their admissions criteria slightly for men. If they did not consider gender, only credentials, the classes they admit could be 55% women, 60%, or even more.
  • Discrimination against minority applicants. Let’s not be naïve. Discrimination has been practiced against various distinct groups since the birth of American higher education. Everybody knows it has not gone away. Behind closed doors, it seems impossible that schools are not deciding what percentage of their incoming classes should be African-American, Hispanic, Jewish, and so on.  That’s what affirmative action was intended to combat in the first place. Know what? Maybe it’s not time to toss it on the junk pile yet.

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