Are Blacks and Hispanics More “Holistic” Than Whites And Asians?

In “Rising Admissions Standards Have Kept Top Colleges Out of Many Minority Students’ Reach,” Peter Schmidt reports in the Chronicle of Higher Education on yet another study of blacks and Hispanics being “channelled” into less selective colleges.

The most selective colleges have raised the bar for admission over decades in which more black and Hispanic students have gotten into the game, leaving such institutions as out of reach for many minority applicants as they had been decades ago, a new study found.
As a result, long-term improvement in the academic preparation of black and Hispanic students and growth in the share entering postsecondary education has not translated into their increased representation at highly selective colleges. Instead, it has left the nation with a higher-education system in which rising numbers of such students are channeled into less-competitive colleges while the most-selective institutions become increasingly associated with students who are relatively wealthy and, for the more part, white or Asian American, the study revealed.

The study was conducted by Michael Bastedo, an associate professor of education at the University of Michigan, and several graduate students there. They analyzed long-term data on students who were high school seniors in 1972, 1982, 1992, or 2004. A paper based on the study, “Access Without Equity: Longitudinal analyses of institutional stratification by race and ethnicity, 1972-2004,” can be found here.


Readers of this study, like most academic studies documenting less “diversity” than their authors think appropriate, must navigate through an ideological fog thick with references to “access,” “diversity,” “disparities,” “equity,” etc. Beneath the fog the findings range from highly, even dramatically, unsurprising to curiously contradictory or rather sad.
First, in a finding that no remotely sentient person needs a social scientist to prove with elaborate “descriptive and multivariate analyses,” the authors confirmed — Surprise! — that

enrollment disparities may be attributed to associated disparities in academic preparation….
Differences in academic preparation help explain why Black and Latino high school graduates are less likely than Whites to enroll in America’s most selective colleges and universities.

Who’d a thunk?
There is, however, something odd even here. Controlling for academic preparation, the authors find that “[d]ifferences in enrollment odds between Black and White students are no longer statistically significant in any of the cohorts….” Fine, but then they continue:

Holding academic preparation constant not only equalizes Latinos’ odds of enrollment by 2004, but produces a 156% higher enrollment odds than that of White student.

What is odd here is not that Hispanics have significantly improved odds of enrollment over similarly qualified whites — that’s what preferential treatment does, after all — but that differences between black and white odds for the similarly qualified are not “statistically significant.”
But how can that possibly be, since the authors also document the “widening differences in mean SAT scores by race, from 141 points between Whites’ and Blacks’ average scores … to 202 points between Asians’ and Blacks’ mean score [from 1972 to 2004]?
How, in short, can the differences in the odds of admission for similarly qualified whites and blacks not be “statistically significant” given the enormous gap in their test scores, especially since the authors also find that the “increasing importance of SAT scores is perhaps the strongest longitudinal trend” in the period studied?
And finally, there is the new magic mantra of “holistic” admissions. Here’s Peter Schmidt’s gloss on the new findings:

In analyzing the federal data, the researchers identified several trends that appeared to hold promise when it comes to increasing black and Hispanic access to the most-selective category of institutions.
Among them, highly selective colleges appear to be giving more weight to applicants’ involvement in extracurricular activities as part of “holistic” admissions processes intended to increase diversity and differentiate among the academically qualified.
Although having held extracurricular leadership positions did not appear to significantly bolster the selective-college enrollment prospects of students who were high-school seniors in 1992, for the seniors of 2004, having held such positions was strongly, positively correlated with selective-college enrollment.
In every racial category, the proportion of students enrolled at highly selective colleges who reported having held extracurricular leadership positions in high school more than doubled from the 1992 to 2004 cohorts. It rose from 35 percent to 74 percent for black students, from 30 percent to 69 percent for white students, from 22 percent to 65 percent for Asian-American students, and from 19 percent to 54 percent for students who were Hispanic.

Are all applicants judged by the same “holistic” criteria, or are some more “holistic” than others? That is, if the reason for turning to “holistic” admissions is its “promise … for increasing black and Hispanic access to the most-selective category of institutions,” how “holistic” is it in practice? Are blacks and Hispanics, that is, more likely to have “holistic” qualifications than whites and Asians? If not, why would adding “holistic” qualifications to the mix increase the numbers of them admitted?
Could the turn toward “holistic” criteria (and the infinitely elastic discretion that it requires) possibly be no more than a pretext for sneaking race and ethnic preferences past gullible lawyers, judges, and obstinate citizens who continue to believe in colorblind equality? But I suppose only a real cynic — or a close observer of American higher education — could believe that.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

One thought on “Are Blacks and Hispanics More “Holistic” Than Whites And Asians?”

  1. Nothing new here except, we are going to need educated immigrants. Someone has to pay taxes so illegals and dropouts are not starving in the street

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.