Sunday, October 14, 2012

Affirmative action in the news

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments in a reverse discrimination case brought by a white female who had been denied admission to UT-Austin.  No doubt because the issue is once again in the news, Weekend WSJ ran a lengthy piece on recent research on the impact of affirmative action by a UCLA law professor who also happens to be an economist. 

As someone who entered college at a time when there were very, very few African-Americans on campus, there is no question that affirmative action has literally changed the face of higher education.  But being admitted to a great school under special preferences often be a mixed blessing.  The WSJ piece focuses on "mismatch" issues where the admitted student is significantly less prepared than most other students at a school.  The key finding:
There is now increasing evidence that students who receive large preferences of any kind—whether based on race, athletic ability, alumni connections or other considerations—experience some clear negative effects: Students end up with poor grades (usually in the bottom fifth of their class), lower graduation rates, extremely high attrition rates from science and engineering majors, substantial self-segregation on campus, lower self-esteem and far greater difficulty passing licensing tests (such as bar exams for lawyers).
The authors call for more transparency in admissions decisions and a sharply curtailed role for affirmative action.  I am sure WSJ will get letters pointing out that colleges still have a way to go to truly represent the full range of diversity we have in our society.  Tough issues, no easy answers.  

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