Monday, April 21, 2008

How Affirmative Action Hurts Blacks

It is not surprising that affirmative action works to the detriment of whites and Asians (who are no longer racial minorities, when it comes to affirmative action). But this recent report from the April 21, 2008 Inside Higher Education reveals that what Thomas Sowell has repeatedly written about--how affirmative action hurts blacks--is still the case:

A report being released today by Education Sector suggests that, at many campuses, the gap in the graduation rates of black and white students is embarrassingly large, raising questions about the experience of black students once enrolled. The report finds that some institutions — including those outside the elite ranks of private higher education — have strategies that result in black students graduating at relatively similar rates to white students, while other institutions appear to accept gaps of 25 percentage points or more in the rates.

The new report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” is largely based on data that colleges are required to report on graduation rates, broken down by race, under the Student Right-to-Know Act, which was enacted in 1990 with a major of drawing attention to the historically low graduation rates of athletes. While that was the goal, the law required colleges to report graduation rates on all students, for comparison purposes, making possible the kind of analysis Education Sector has done.

Nationally, about 57 percent of students at four-year institutions graduate within six years — with some private colleges reporting rates well above 90 percent year after year while others have rates that are quite low. Black students disproportionately attend colleges with low graduation rates for black students. Only about 30 percent attend colleges with six-year graduation rates of 50 percent or higher. About 50 percent of black students attend colleges with six-year graduation rates for black students that are less than 40 percent.
The article puts the entire discussion in terms of the failure of colleges to make sure that black students receive enough assistance to graduate. But why do black students need all this extra assistance? Even at historically black colleges (many of them public institutions that were originally set up by Southern states that didn't want black students at the white colleges), there is a big problem with the more competitive institutions:
The study briefly explores trends in graduation rates at historically black colleges, where average rates for all institutions are low, but where there is a split between institutions with competitive admissions (which tend to have high rates) and other institutions, which tend to have low rates.
Why? And what does this have to do with affirmative action? A lot of the elite universities desperately want black students to attend. At the same time, blacks are disproportionately concentrated in some of the worst public school systems: Los Angeles, D.C., New York City, Chicago. Many of the graduates of these often hellhole high schools who are college bound have been inadequately prepared for the demands of Harvard, or Yale, or UC Berkeley.

So what happens to students who might have able to survive the demands of UC Berkeley, but get lured into Harvard by extraordinary scholarships? Or what about the student whose grades and test scores would have put him in the middle of the class at San Jose State, but instead goes to UC Berkeley? He is competing with students (white, Asian, and black) who were admitted without any special treatment, and whose SAT scores may average 200-300 points higher, because their K-12 education was markedly superior. High dropout rates are inevitable.

Is it better for a black kid from an inferior inner city school system to drop out of Harvard or Stanford, or to graduate from UCLA or San Jose State? College administrators can feel good about themselves for admitting students under affirmative action who aren't ready for the rigors of their institution. But I rather doubt that it is making the students who drop out feel good about themselves.

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