The Performance Gap

The Chronicle of Higher Education in this week’s issue points to a problem confronted by colleges: “the poor grades earned by many minority students.” Vacuous assertions that “diversity and excellence go hand in hand” tend to collapse when confronting figures like those found in the Chronicle piece:

Data for 2003-4 U.S. colleges contrasted the percentages of students earning mostly A’s and mostly C’s or lower within racial classifications.

19.3 percent of whites earned mostly A’s, while 24 percent earned mostly C’s or lower.

By contrast, 12.7 percent of Hispanics earned mostly A’s, while 34.6% earned mostly C’s or lower.

9.6 percent of Blacks earned mostly A’s, while 40.7 percent earned C’s or lower.

The true marvel of the piece is how reluctant college administrators seem to be to acknowledge that much of the root of this problem lies in their willfull enrollment of underqualified minority students. The problem worsens in upper-tier schools, where such diversity-passions are strongest; “researchers with access to the transcripts of students at selective colleges say the performance gaps are even more pronounced there.” The frequently-invoked justification that affirmative action provides a leg up to parity meets harsher fact in these figures. “Unless colleges can find ways to improve minoririty undergraduates’ performance, there is likely to be a drop in the percentage of black, Hispanic, and Native American students becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers.” Yes, and diversity coordinators will have twice as much work to do.

An obvious thought, that occurs to precious few administrators in the piece, is that the admission of underqualified minority students sets up these very students for lackluster performances or failure. The article profiles several laudable efforts at colleges to assist students that perform poorly, but most involved flinch from the obvious palliative – admitting fewer unprepared students in the first place. Perhaps they could then direct their concern in the right direction – ensuing adequate minority academic preparation in high schools – rather than continuing to foster an academic underclass in ther service of diversity nostrums.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

3 thoughts on “The Performance Gap

  1. Yes, of course, the “racial gap” does exist and it does reflect something important about the sub-cultures involved—and, as well, the number of parental and grandparental generations that lived at truly middle-class levels.
    But there is another gap worth noting: namely the one bewteen our present generation of middle-class “advantaged” students and their equally advantaged parents and grandparents. That difference, of course, is that the earlier generations had much fuller, content-rich education both at preparatory and college levels. The ignorance of history, literature, science and the very use of their native language is the shameful defect stigmatically stamped upon most (of course, not all) the students that I have had in my courses at the University of Chicago over the last thirty years.
    In truth, as every academic veteran knows, we have defaulted on the obligation to provide an enriching education to the American young.

  2. For gosh sakes, where’s the mystery? Affirmative action students were admitted not to redress past wrongs or because of the mythical ameliorative effect of their mere presence but because it allowed but because it served the needs of various college officials to appear to be “doing something”.
    Since they weren’t doing something to help the kids so much as to help themselves, they very pragmatically buried the evidence of the failure of the policy. It would hardly do, were it easily discovered, that affirmative action students are nothing more then cannon fodder in a culture war.

  3. I would not trust these figures–matters are probably worse. It was my experience at a Big Ten University that multiple opportunities existed for Black and Hispanic students to get good grades on the cheap. This was more or less official policy given that the University had a strong interest in making the “right” numbers. Among the more common tactics was to steer these students to instructors notorious for awarding nearly all “A’s”, sending them to courses based on identity politics where easy grading was ideologically justified and various adminstrative rescues such as allowing a class to be dropped after the official drop date.
    In one instance I had a black student who was permitted to drop two of my courses AFTER the semester was over. Her grade for one was an “F” and the other was a “D.” In another instance a black student was permitted to drop my course TWO YEARS after she failed it so she could graduate.
    The university also had special “minority only” courses that paralleled nearly all large introductory courses. Given grading on a curve, many of these students received gift A’s and B’s.
    There is also the issue of lower expectations in grading papers and setting curves. This can get crazy. I know of one school where every instructor was told that before flunking a black or Hispanic student he or she would need written permission from the President.
    Finally, it is my impression that few instructors will bring charges of cheating against black or Hispanic students even when it is obvious.

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