Closing The Graduation Race Gap The Right Way

There is a substantial academic performance gap between black and white high school graduates. Most who study education readily acknowledge this fact. Institutions of higher education are presumed to be places where students come to the campus reasonably prepared to compete with others who are similarly prepared. For decades, colleges and universities have sought to close the black/white academic achievement gap largely by ignoring it and using race preferences to paper over it.

Now, along comes a report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” which comes to the startling conclusion that if institutions of higher education expend enough resources on remedial education and “outreach” for those students who come to the university less prepared than necessary, the academic achievement gap can be significantly closed by the time a sufficient number of “minority” students reach the point of graduation. Duh!!!

The abovementioned report also seeks to make a backdoor case for race preferences: “Ward Connerly and other prominent critics of affirmative action have frequently cited low graduation rates of minority students as evidence that some are being admitted to institutions where they may not succeed – and they have argued that these students would benefit from attending institutions where their academic preparation is aligned with student expectations.” The author of the report “strongly disputes” the anti-preference argument.

Far from effectively refuting the argument that race preferences often contribute to low graduation rates for the beneficiaries of such preferences, because such students are mismatched at institutions for which they are inadequately prepared, the report simply identifies a path for closing the gap.

I am an enormous advocate of university-sponsored academic outreach programs to assist in preparing and retaining students once they are enrolled. I strongly supported the expansion of such programs while I served as a Regent of the University of California. However, university-sponsored outreach is not an effective substitute for radically improving preparation at the K-12 level. In addition, extreme care must be exercised to avoid the appearance that academic preparation is the responsibility and the priority of higher education. Shifting this responsibility from K-12 to the university helps a small number of minority students, but contributes little to the overwhelming need for massive reform of the K-12 system itself.


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