Tag Archives: admission

Why Size Matters in College Preferences


By Stuart Taylor, Jr. and Richard Sander

Even for people who approve in
principle of some use of racial preferences in university admissions — notably
including Justice Anthony Kennedy — the size of the preferences, and of the
resulting racial gaps in academic performance in college and beyond, should
matter a great deal.

So it’s unfortunate (though
understandable, as explained below) that the size of the preferences at issue
in Fisher v. University of Texas was
not mentioned either during the Supreme Court’s October 10 oral argument or at
any other point in the discrimination lawsuit against UT by Abigail Fisher, a
disappointed white applicant.

But the Court could and should use
Fisher case to impose a
requirement — suggested in our new book,
— that from now on, a university’s burden of proving justification for its use
of racial preferences will include a requirement that it fully disclose the
size of its preferences (preferably including legacy and athletic preferences)
and of the mean gaps in college academic performance among students admitted on
the basis of preferences of various sizes.

Continue reading Why Size Matters in College Preferences

The Anti-Defamation League Reverses Course on Affirmative Action

In explaining why the American Jewish Committee had (with his help) supported Alan Bakke’s lawsuit against the University of California but also supported the University of Michigan’s racial preferences in Gratz and Grutter, Alan Dershowitz wrote that

We feared that our hard-earned right to be admitted on the merits would be taken away. The WASP quotient would be held constant, and the Jews and African Americans would be left to fight over the crumbs. What happened is that Jews have become the WASPs. They are among the dominant groups on campus, in terms of numbers.

Three of the most influential Jewish organizations — The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League — opposed preferences based on race in Bakke. In fact, according to a detailed summary of the brief they filed jointly, the two AJCs went much further and even opposed all classifications based on race, calling them “presumptively invalid because of their irrelevant and invidious nature.”  The Anti-Defamation League filed its own brief in Bakke, which was equally strong: it insisted that “a difference in race cannot be an appropriate justification for different treatment by the state.”

By 2002 both the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress, perhaps fearful of straining black-Jewish relations, abandoned their Bakke-era principles and supported the University of Michigan’s use of race preferences.  However, the ADL maintained that “people should not be judged by skin color, and any use of race in admissions is unconstitutional.” 

“What we want is society to be as colorblind as possible,” National Director Abe Foxman insisted to the Jewish Daily Forward, “and therefore to use [race] for good purposes we believe is as unconstitutional as using it for bad purposes, especially if there are other ways to achieve the goal of diversity.” For example, he said, “the ADL supports Texas’s policy of guaranteeing the top 10% of each high school’s graduating class admission to the state university of their choice to promote diversity in lieu of racial preferences.”

Last Friday, however, the ADL abandoned its “principled position” and filed a brief supporting the University of Texas’s open-ended use of “race-based criteria.” Swallowing the same “holistic” race preference Kool-aid to which the American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress had been addicted since Grutter, Foxman, still National Director of ADL, and Robert Sugarman, its National Chair, issued a statement revealing their belief that “diversity,” not non-discrimination, is “critically important.”  

The University of Texas’ approach does not impose quotas, assign people to categories based on their race, or use race as a determinative factor in making admissions decisions.  Rather, it uses race as only one factor in a holistic review of each applicant. This is not an overt or a covert quota system, which ADL would have opposed.

Thoroughly jettisoning its formerly “principled” opposition to “any use of race in admissions,” the ADL now opposes only “quotas, assigning persons to categories based on their race, or using race as a determinative factor in making admissions decisions” [emphasis added]. I wonder what Foxman et al. will say when religion is considered “as only one factor,” and not a “determinative” one, in efforts to diversify departments, faculties, and professions in which Jews are “overrepresented.” They certainly can have no principled objection to taking religion into account in admission and hiring.

A Questionable New Student

Tablet brings news of the unfortunate case of Sheherazad Jaafari, who was
admitted to Columbia‘s School of International
and Public Affairs (SIPA) despite her background as a public relations aide for
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The admission raises important questions of
standards and program policies.

Continue reading A Questionable New Student

Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Elizabeth Warren.jpgSeemingly lily-white Elizabeth Warren’s supposed claim of Cherokee heritage may make for good campaign fodder–incumbent Senator Scott Brown has gone so far as to demand that Warren apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a minority–but the real lesson in this latest of partisan battles has more to do with university rather than electoral politics.

For those who have been living in a bubble, let’s rehash: On April 27th, the Boston Herald reported that Elizabeth Warren “was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials…as proof of their faculty’s diversity” in 1996; indeed, according to the Herald, Warren was considered the only minority woman on the Law School faculty at the time (a statistic of great interest, it seems, to those who count such things). Following the report, the Warren campaign has been on the defensive as opponent Brown, along with many members of the media, have been questioning (or simply making fun of) Warren’s seemingly cynical careerist use of her Native American heritage. Over the next few weeks, we will doubtless continue to hear details about Warren’s family, and about whether or not she used her lineage in a suspect way.

Continue reading Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Stereotype Threat Coming to the Supreme Court

studying.jpgGet ready for a brand new defense of affirmative action that you’ve never heard before: preferences are necessary to assure selection by merit. How can that be? Simple. Just rework Claude Steele’s theory of stereotype threat–that minorities do less well on tests than their abilities warrant out of fear that their performance will confirm negative stereotypes about their race or ethnicity. Greg Walton, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, and several co-authors have just dressed it up in a new study currently in press at the journal Social Issues and Policy Review. They plan to include their findings in an amicus brief supporting affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas.

According to a celebration of their work just published in Stanford News Today,
the authors believe they have come up with a gold-plated defense of
racial, ethnic, and even gender preferences that does not rely on the
promotion of diversity. The conflict between diversity and merit, Walton
et al. believe, is bogus. “Our argument is that you need affirmative
action to make meritocratic decisions – to get the best candidates.”

Continue reading Stereotype Threat Coming to the Supreme Court

Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

Surprise, surprise. Affirmation action for college admissions is yet one more time in the hands of the Supreme Court (Fisher v. Texas). Given the Court’s changed personnel from the last go around (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 2003), race-based preferences may soon be history. But, would this judicial outcome finally doom preferences? Opponents of affirmative might wish to hold off celebrating.

Continue reading Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

Confusion over Anti-Asian Discrimination

At the request of the unidentified Asian-American student who filed discrimination complaints against Harvard and Princeton, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has ended its investigation.

The civil rights office had folded the complaint against Princeton … into a compliance review begun in 2008 of whether that university discriminates against Asian-Americans.

The allegations in the 2011 complaint “will no longer be considered as part of OCR’s existing compliance review involving Princeton,” said an Education Department spokesman, who declined to be identified, citing department policy.

Continue reading Confusion over Anti-Asian Discrimination

Are Too Many People Going to College?

These are the opening statements of a luncheon debate co-sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  The debate, held January 11 in New York City, pitted George Leef, research director of the Pope Center, against Peter Sacks, economist and author of Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education.  The moderator was Howard Husock, Manhattan Institute’s vice president for policy research.

YES–George Leef

In my time this afternoon, I hope to persuade you that the United States has greatly oversold higher education.

We have done that through heavy government subsidies and extravagant rhetoric from both politicians and higher education leaders that created the impression that high-paying jobs were waiting for anyone who completed a college degree.

Just as we caused a destructive, resource-wasting housing bubble by pushing the idea that home ownership was good for almost everyone, so have we caused a resource-wasting higher education bubble.  Large numbers of people have gone to college and obtained degrees costing a great deal of money and time, only to find that there aren’t nearly enough of those good jobs to go around.

The analogy to the housing bubble isn’t perfect, however.  At least the houses that were built were generally of good construction.

In our higher education bubble, many of the educations purchased by students are the equivalent of houses without roofs.  Many Americans today graduate with a college education in name only, having gained little or nothing in useful skills and knowledge.

It’s common in public policy issues for the enthusiasts for some idea to exaggerate the benefits that will supposedly come from their favored policy while underestimating if not entirely overlooking the costs and new problems it will cause.  That was the case with the housing bubble and it’s equally so with our great leap forward to get more and more people through college.

The first benefit of going to college is that it supposedly leads to higher lifetime earnings, since on average, those who have college degrees earn significantly more than do people who don’t.

It is a mistake to assume that just because, on average, people who obtained college degrees in the past have enjoyed higher earnings, individuals who will get college degrees in the future will also enjoy the same “earnings premium.”

We know that many college graduates have to accept jobs that don’t call for any academic preparation whatsoever, and don’t pay more just because the worker happens to have a degree.

Last year, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity released a paper documenting the large percentages of people who have bachelors degrees (or higher) working in jobs that most high schoolers could easily do: customer service reps, cashiers, taxi drivers, and so on.

Quoting from that report.  “More than one third of current working graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree and the proportion appears to be rising rapidly….60 percent of the increased college graduate population between 1992 and 2008 ended up in these lower skill jobs.”

The labor market is glutted with people holding college credentials.  Just because a country “produces” a lot of college grads does not mean there will be commensurate jobs for them.

A second common belief is that it’s advantageous for a country to have a high rate of college completion because it improves economic competitiveness.  Conversely, a country that falls behind in this regard faces a dim economic future.

In an address to Congress in 2009, President Obama latched onto that idea, calling for a national goal of being first in the world in terms of college graduates by 2025.

The trouble with that notion is that there is no necessary connection between a nation’s “educational attainment” level and the vitality of its economy.

In her book Does Education Matter?–Myths about education and economic growth, University of London professor Alison Wolf examined the supposed connection between education and economic growth.  She wrote, “Two naive beliefs have a distorting influence (on public policy) – the belief in a simple, direct relationship between the amount of education in a society and its future growth rate, and the belief that governments can fine-tune education expenditures to maximize that rate of growth. Neither is correct.”

Wolf provided examples of nations that have “invested” heavily in higher education yet have listless economies (such as Egypt) and others that do little to promote higher education yet enjoy very productive and growing economies (such as Switzerland).

Conclusion: putting lots of people through college is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for rapid economic growth.

Now I’ll mention two costs.

One cost of the expansion of college has been a corresponding decline in academic standards.

As college enrollments rose in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, K-12 standards were falling, with the result that an ever-increasing proportion of college students entered with weak academic skills and often an attitude that was indifferent toward learning.

In a 1997 article, Montana State English professor Paul Trout called them “disengaged” students and explained how they put downward pressure on academic rigor and upward pressure on grades – to keep them content and enrolled.

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy provides evidence of falling college standards.  In the 1992 study, only 40 percent of college graduates were assessed as “proficient” in prose literacy; by the 2003 study, that figure had fallen to just 31 percent.

And putting a quantitative peak on the mountain of anecdotal evidence that many students just coast along to their degrees, last year’s book Academically Adrift showed that a large percentage of college students learn essentially nothing.

A second cost is credential inflation.  The more college grads in the labor force, the more employers require job applicants to have college credentials, even for jobs that call for no academic preparation.

James Engell and Anthony Dangerfield wrote in their book Saving Higher Education in the Era of Money, “The United States has become the most rigidly credentialized society in the world.  A BA is required for jobs that by no stretch of imagination require two years of full-time training, let alone four.”

Credential inflation is hard on poor people who are prevented from competing for jobs they could do and hardest of all on poor people who spend money they need for other things on college credentials, only to wind up in low-pay jobs anyway.

I hope you’ll now agree that we’ve oversold college.


NO–Peter Sacks

Are too many people going to college?
This question seems simple but we can look at in through many lenses.  From what or whose perspective are there too many college goers?  From an individual’s point of view at the present time?  From a societal perspective now and in the long run?  From a macroeconomic viewpoint?
First, let me make one thing clear.  It’s argued that a substantial number of college-goers — who should not be going to college — would be better off seeking associate’s degrees or other types of vocational credentials that would help them find good jobs.  This is the updated version of the old, “College isn’t for everyone” argument.
Okay, college isn’t for everyone.  Besides striking me as a bit paternalistic, to make this claim as an argument that too many people are going to college isn’t really an argument at all because nobody would disagree with the claim that college isn’t for everyone.

No, the real argument here is whether we are over-investing in higher education leading to bachelor’s degrees, and if so, how do we legitimately ration higher education opportunity.  How do we decide who “legitimately” deserves this privilege?

From whatever perspective one chooses, there are not too many people going to college.  In fact, the evidence strongly suggests that the United States is under-investing in higher education.  For the sake of economic development alone, there are actually too few people going to college.
Lately, a number of voices have suggested that too many high school graduates are going to college who shouldn’t be going to college.  According to this argument, we are producing more college graduates than what the labor market can accommodate.  The result, it’s claimed, is a flood of college-educated young people working at relatively low-level jobs.
I believe that this argument of too much college-educated labor supply versus demand — an alleged overmatch problem — is not supported by the evidence.
We’ve all heard the stories of the elevator operator with a master’s degree or the waiter with a Ph.D.  But the data suggests these stories are just that, the seemingly frequent, yet incidental, stories which defy our sensibilities about the purpose of higher education and whether it’s worth the cost.  Even on this narrow aspect of the  supply and demand of labor, the evidence suggests that members of the college-educated workforce are either sufficiently educated or in fact undereducated for their jobs.
That is strike one for the too many going to college argument: Given the education and skill requirements of the U.S. economy now and in the future, this country is largely undereducated for the future.  We are producing too few BA degrees and advanced degrees relative to the skill sets employers actually need and will need.
A second aspect of our question today that is largely ignored in the college-no college debate is the macroeconomic value of higher education investments.
In fact, the evidence suggests than public investments in human capital, including higher education, yield long-term economic rates of return that far exceed most standard investments in technology or capital.  Such excess rates of return, above and beyond rates of return in alternative investments, suggest a massive amount of underinvestment in human capital and a dead loss of untold economic returns due to this underinvestment.
That is strike two for the too many going to college argument: Too few people are going to college because current levels of public investment in human capital are woefully insufficient from a macroeconomic perspective.
Finally, there is an even more vital aspect of this debate question that is rarely discussed in conversations on this issue.

To ask whether too many people are going to college begs another question: If too many people are going to college, then who are these people?  How should we as a society ration a more restricted level of educational opportunity?  If we actually did decide as a nation that too many people are going to college, then how should we fix this problem, and what are the far-reaching implications of this fix?  Are too many kids from wealthy families going to college?  Are there too many college-goers enrolled in social work?  Are too many lower middle class kids seeking higher education?  Whom exactly are we encouraging when they should not be encouraged?

While some critics are quick to say that we should reduce the numbers of college-goers, you can be sure that this point of view would rarely apply to their own sons and daughters.
I think most people in this room are smart enough to know that young people born to families of modest incomes and relatively low levels of education — who already bear the brunt of the lack of college access — will also bear the lion’s share of the burden of any policy to roll back education opportunity.
And there you have it: not just fewer people in general going to college but especially fewer people who can least afford to pay for college.

As the chosen ones, however, students from families who have the ability to pay for admissions slots at universities — which, by the way, would dramatically shrink because of dwindling subsidies —  well these chosen few would become our new, self-perpetuating aristocracy.

At the dinner table, equal opportunity means that parents want their children to have opportunities they never had themselves.  After a few generations of striving, grandparents who had attained no more than a high school diploma now have grandchildren who are doctors, professors, and engineers.  Who in this room doesn’t have stories like that in their families?

Those stories should remind us of who we are and how we got here.  We have what we have because of sacrifices — investments in human capital — that past generations made, for us.

As we speak, the American Dream is already on life support.  Adopt the notion that too many people are going to college, and we kill off the Dream for good.

Best Books of 2011

crazy_u.jpgWhat were the best books of the year on higher education? A
panel of ten prominent people in the field, invited to vote by Minding the
Campus, picked as their top two choices, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning
on College Campuses”
by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa; and “Crazy U: One Dad’s
Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College”
by Andrew Ferguson.

Both books take a largely negative view of today’s colleges
and universities. Arum and Roksa, both sociologists, take a straightforward
approach to surveys and analysis of the limited learning on our campuses, while
Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a well-known conservative
writer, is darkly humorous about the results of his consistently impressive reportage.

“Academically Adrift” was a top choice of 9 of the 10 voting
members of the panel, all asked to name from one to five books… “Crazy U.” was
picked by six voters. Four books drew three votes: “In the Basement of the
Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic”
by Professor X; “The Fall
of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It
by Benjamin Ginsberg; “The Faculty Lounges and Other Reasons Why You
Won’t Get the College Education You Pay For”
by Naomi Schaefer Riley; and “The
Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out”

by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring.

Continue reading Best Books of 2011

Jerry Brown Disappoints Backers of Preferences

Say what you will about California’s enigmatic governor, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, but on major issues involving votes of the people, Brown is very reluctant to go against the will of the people, no matter what his personal views happen to be.

In 1978, during his first term as governor, Brown opposed the highly popular Proposition 13, which was approved by the voters to place a lid on property taxes imposed by local governments.

Continue reading Jerry Brown Disappoints Backers of Preferences

‘Cutthroat Admissions’ at Elite Colleges?

The Chronicle Review is notorious for publishing outlandish opinion pieces more in the nature of white-hot rants than well-reasoned essays. A good case in point is Professor John Quiggin’s “A Vicious Duo” (September 16 – subscriber site), is one of the most overwrought pieces I’ve read there.

Quiggin, who teaches economics at the University of Queensland in Australia, contends that America is beset by the twin problems of rising inequality of income and “cutthroat admissions” at our elite colleges and universities. That combination allegedly leads to a “self-sustaining oligarchy.” Whatever superficial plausibility his argument might have — especially for people like himself who live outside the United States — vanishes when you comprehend the following points.

Continue reading ‘Cutthroat Admissions’ at Elite Colleges?

What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

Continue reading What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

Preferences for Homosexuals?

LGBT.jpgElmhurst College, in what is apparently a first, will ask this question on its admissions application:  “Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?”  Answering the question will be optional; applicants may chose “yes” or “no” or “prefer not to answer.” 

Those answering yes to the LGBT question will be eligible for a diversity-driven “enrichment scholarship” since they will be considered members of an “underrepresented group.”  On the other hand, according to Insider Higher Ed, the school “admits around 65 percent of applicants, and does not anticipate using sexual orientation as a factor in admissions decisions.”

You can read about all this on the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed websites, and the college itself subsequently put out a  statement on the matter (in which it notes that “the College did not seeks publicity for this step”).

There do not appear to be any federal legal problems with the college’s action, and if there are it will be, ironically, because of liberal rather than conservative legal theories. That is, the left has been aggressive in pushing legal arguments that federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation; to the extent that courts and bureaucrats accept those dubious arguments, then it opens the door to claims that preferences on the basis of sexual orientation are illegal, too.

Law aside, does Elmhurst’s action make sense as a policy matter?

Continue reading Preferences for Homosexuals?

The US News Rankings Are Consistent with Aristocratic Values

In the current New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell entertainingly explains why computing a unidimensional ranking of educational quality from multidimensional indicators is a fool’s errand. In the case he examines, the project is to identify the best schools in order of quality, when the best school does not exist any more than a best kind of music exists. The absurdity of the project appears when we find out how much the outcome varies with the weights given the factors and realize that sensible people will weigh them differently. The pointlessness of the project deepens when we learn that the numbers being used to indicate quality are themselves of dubious value and subject to misreporting. In the first iteration of my Ranking Game, I showed that a law school’s rank might change substantially if the ranker includes faculty/student ratio (on which higher is better) instead of the opposite of (i.e., negative of) student/faculty ratio (again, on which higher is better). Which one is the better measure of school quality, faculty/student ratio or student/faculty ratio? Gladwell and Donald Downs rightly point out that price ought to be an important component of any rational decision. But no ranking designed to reach a heterogeneous audience will include school price as a fixed factor. If it were included, many readers would recognize that the ranking does not fit their situation because they qualify for a scholarship or because they do not attach the same importance to price. Conversely, leaving price out of the equation helps to obscure the fact that the ranking fits few prospective students. Omitting price tailors the ranking to those who have the means to pay any toll, which supports the observation that the priorities embedded in US News’s ranking are more consistent with aristocratic values than the values of access and efficiency. The omission of price might mislead students into taking on substantial debt in order to buy a negligible improvement in education. Continue reading The US News Rankings Are Consistent with Aristocratic Values

Malcolm Gladwell and Those Shaky Rankings

As the author of a college guide that tries to help college-going students identify schools that would be a good “match” for them as individuals, I’ve always had three main gripes with the U.S. News & World Report rankings. First, you can’t quantify the really important factors that go into selecting the right college, such as the quality of student-faculty relations. Second, colleges manipulate the numbers to their own advantage. And finally, the rankings are premised on asking the wrong question. The issue is not what’s the “best” college in the abstract but what’s the best college for you?
At a time when it would seem that every conceivable argument to be made against the U.S. News rankings has been put forward, Malcolm Gladwell has now come along and, in his New Yorker riff on the topic, added some savory spice to the debate. Gladwell makes some conventional arguments. He rightly ridicules the proxies that the magazine uses for academic quality (“Do professors who get paid more money really take their teaching roles more seriously?”), and he joins the familiar chorus of complaints about the use of reputational surveys. College presidents are the last people I would ever consult in order to get a handle on the quality of a competing institution.

Continue reading Malcolm Gladwell and Those Shaky Rankings

“Bake Sales” Still Cooking On Campus

affirm.pngWhen the history of the decline and fall of the regime of racial preference is written, recognition will of course be given to the power of the moral, philosophical, historical, legal, and political arguments arrayed against the repugnant notion that benefits and burdens should be distributed on the basis of race. But it seems to me that a prominent place in the story must also be reserved for the devastating, pomposity-puncturing impact of wickedly effective satire in the form of “anti-affirmative action bake sales” that spontaneously erupted on campuses around the country.

For some reason liberals — a shorthand here for university administrators, students, faculty, and their supporters in the mainstream media and Democratic Party — who defend as a matter of principle lowering standards for approved minorities in hiring, college admissions, etc., become sputteringly apoplectic when students, parroting and parodying affirmative action, stage satirical mock sales of cakes and cookies with higher prices for Asians and whites and lower prices for blacks and Hispanics and, sometimes, women. Requiring Asians, for example, to score 200 points higher than other minorities on the SAT strikes liberals as entirely fair and just, but a mock sale ostensibly requiring them to pay fifty cents more for a cupcake is somehow offensively discriminatory. Adding irony to insult, they don’t even seem to recognize that by calling the differential pricing discriminatory they are simply confirming the point of the affirmative action protesters whose satire, as I argued on this site last April, “merely mimicked the actual practices of the admissions offices.”

There have been several dozen of these spontaneous, un-coordinated bake sales on campuses over the past several years, and the controversy at Bucknell is still raging. John Stossel of Fox News held his own bake sale to focus attention on Bucknell’s suppression of political speech, and has had several on air discussions of it. “This week,” he wrote two weeks ago,

I held a bake sale — a racist bake sale. I stood in midtown Manhattan shouting, “Cupcakes for sale.” My price list read:

Asians — $1.50

Whites — $1.00

Blacks/Latinos — 50 cents

People stared. One yelled, “What is funny to you about people who are less privileged?” A black woman said, angrily, “It’s very offensive, very demeaning!” One black man accused me of poisoning the cupcakes.

I understand why people got angry. What I did was hurtful to some. My bake sale mimicked what some conservative college students did at Bucknell University. The students wanted to satirize their school’s affirmative action policy, which makes it easier for blacks and Hispanics to get admitted…..

All the Bucknell students wanted was a campus discussion about that. Why not? A university is supposed to be a place for open discussion, but some topics are apparently off-limits.

Continue reading “Bake Sales” Still Cooking On Campus

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.

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

Seeing Ghosts in Class

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just added a new nail to the coffin of American Academia. Lax admission policies, politically correct texts, underpaid assistants who do the teaching in place of the big name professors busy on their next books, incompetent management, to name just a few liabilities, are wrecking the once-proud reputation of many U.S. colleges and universities.
As if these were not enough, the Chronicle highlights another scandal in Academia. Using the nom de fraud Ed Dante, the author of “The Shadow Scholar” reveals himself as a man who “makes a good living” ghostwriting papers for a “custom essay company.” In plain English, this means coming up with papers on a variety of subjects, which are then peddled to lackluster students. Those students then attach their names to the essays, get good grades, and move on jobs in the private or public sectors.
Dante says he has “written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology and Ph.D. in sociology.” He has also contributed papers for courses in history, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, maritime security, marketing and ethics (!). In the midst of a deep recession, he burbles, “business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 people writers is not large enough to satisfy the thousands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.”

Continue reading Seeing Ghosts in Class

The Quiet Preference for Men in Admissions

It’s a well-known fact that there’s a severe gender imbalance in undergraduate college populations: about 57 percent of undergrads these days are female and only 43 percent male, the culmination of a trend over the past few decades in which significantly fewer young men than young women either graduate from high school or enroll in college. It’s also a well-known fact—at least among college admissions officers—that many private institutions have tried to close the gender gap by quietly relaxing admissions standards for male applicants, essentially practicing affirmative action for young men. What they’re doing is perfectly legal, even under Title IX, the 1972 federal law that bans sex discrimination by institutions of higher learning receiving federal funds. Title IX contains an exemption that specifically allows private colleges that aren’t professional or technical institutions to prefer one sex over the other in undergraduate admissions. Militant feminists and principled opponents of affirmative action might complain about the discrimination against women that Title IX permits, but for many second- and third-tier liberal arts colleges lacking male educational magnets such as engineering and business programs, the exemption may be a lifesaver, preventing those smaller and less prestigious schools from turning into de facto women’s colleges that few young people of either sex might want to attend.
Now, however, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has decided to turn over this rock carefully set in place by admissions committees. The commission launched an investigation last fall into the extent of male preferences in admissions decisions at 19 various institutions of higher learning. These include public universities (where such preferences are illegal under Title IX); elite private institutions such as Georgetown and Johns Hopkins; smaller liberal arts schools (Gettysburg College, with 2,600 undergraduates, is on the list); religious schools (the Jesuit-run University of Richmond and Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.); and historically black Virginia Union University, also in Richmond. On May 14 the commission’s general counsel, David P. Blackwood, announced that four of the 19 schools–Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg, and Messiah—had raised legal issues concerning compliance with the commission’s subpoenas, and that Virginia Union, while responding politely, had not complied in any way. Blackwood said that the commission might have to ask the Justice Department for help in obtaining admissions data from Virginia Union.

Continue reading The Quiet Preference for Men in Admissions

Embarassing Graduation Rate Data?

I was struck by the title of an article that appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, “Education Dept. Data Show Rise in Enrollment and Student Aid but Flat Graduation Rates.” Unless the purpose of student aid is simply to boost enrollments, it sounds like some people — taxpayers come immediately to mind — aren’t getting their money’s worth, not to mention the students lured to college who don’t get out.
Moved by curiosity actually to read the article, I was then struck even harder by something that turned out not to be mentioned in it: any reference to graduation rates by race. That omission seems seriously odd, I thought, since race is always on the Dept. of Education’s mind (or whatever), and surely a Dept. of Education report on graduation rates could not ignore racial data, could it?
So, my next stop was the report itself, “Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008; Graduation Rates, 2002 and 2005 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2008.” Again, no mention of racial graduation rate data in the Foreword, Introduction, or section on Selected Findings, although the Introduction tantalizingly did describe in detail the difference between the old race and ethnic reporting categories (7 categories: “American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; White; race/ethnicity unknown; and nonresident alien”) and the new ones (9 categories: “American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Hispanic/Latino; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; White; two or more races; race/ethnicity unknown; and nonresident alien”).
I had never realized that “nonresident alien” was a racial category, but detailed discussion of these categories did at least reveal that the report was not oblivious to race. And sure enough, the enrollment and graduation data from the more than 6,700 postsecondary institutions that enroll just under 20 million students and that participate in Title IV student financial aid programs is indeed broken down by race, ethnicity, and sex, right there in plain view in Table 5 on p. 15.
The data are not pretty. Graduation rates for both public and private 4-year institutions:

– Asians/Pacific Islander: 66.1%
– Whites: 59.3%
– Hispanic or Latino: 46.5%
– Black or African American: 38.9%

The numbers for black men were even more depressing, falling to 31% at public institutions.
One can see why Obama’s Dept. of Education did not want to call attention to these numbers. It’s harder to see why the Chronicle of Higher Education didn’t ferret them out.

The Tortured Logic of BAMN

People who have followed the effort to put initiatives on state ballots eliminating racial preferences from college admissions might remember this advertisement from 2008, which set Ward Connerly in Klan regalia. Two years before, a group called Think Progress posted a video on its web page under the headline “Leader of Michigan Initiative To End Affirmative Action Welcomes Ku Klux Klan Support.”
Those are revolting examples. Not much less so are the occasions when Connerly has been shouted down and booed while speaking against racial preferences and supporting various ballot measures across the nation (see here for Connerly leaving the podium after repeated interruptions in Omaha).
Now, according to this story by Peter Schmidt in the Chronicle of Higher Education , the pro-affirmative action group Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) has filed a lawsuit against California’s ban, Proposition 209, and their target is Connerly himself and the organization he started, the American Civil Rights Institute. Challenges to 209 have been attempted before and failed, but BAMN believes that 209 nonetheless “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by placing a distinct set of legal hurdles in front of minority groups seeking to increase their representation on the university system’s campuses.”
It takes some tortured logic to reach that conclusion, and here are some of the statements in the actual complaint (which appears here).

Continue reading The Tortured Logic of BAMN

Why Selectivity Is Important

While selective colleges and universities have become more selective, middling and lower-tier schools have become less selective, according to a new study reported on Inside Higher Ed. The study’s author, Stanford’s Caroline M. Hoxby, correctly noted that “typical college-going students in the U.S. should be unconcerned about rising selectivity. If anything, they should be concerned about falling selectivity, the phenomenon they will actually experience.” She added that “policymakers should take care not to enact policies based on the experience of a subset of colleges without considering their ramifications for colleges which have a very different experience.”
The clear policy ramifications from Hoxby’s study: institutions that currently can’t afford to spend the amount of money of students that we see from Ivy League schools ($92,000 per student, according to Hoxby) need to be more selective in both their admissions criteria and in their academic visions.
That finding certainly reflects my experience at the City University of New York, where over the past decade Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has relentlessly pressed for improving selectivity—through demanding that individual CUNY colleges meet higher SAT targets, or by establishing the widely praised CUNY Honors College. That Goldstein has accomplished all of this in the face of vitriolic opposition from CUNY’s faculty union makes his achievements all the more impressive.

Continue reading Why Selectivity Is Important

Too Many Talented Students?

When I came out of high school in 1977, I had a GPA of 3.1, a straight B average. My SAT scores were 710 Math and 590 Verbal, pretty good but not stellar. My entire college application process took a half hour. I sauntered into the counselor’s office at Torrey Pines High School north of San Diego.
“I need to apply to college,” I mumbled.
“Okay,” she said, pulling out a form. “Where do you want to go?”
“Well, I guess a UC school.” We didn’t have money for a private school, and the UC tuition back then was around $500 a year.
“Uh huh,” she replied. “Well, you have to rank three of them.”
I didn’t even know all of them by name, but I’d watched UCLA basketball and my father went to Berkeley for a few years when I was an infant.
“Let’s put UCLA first,” I said, “and Berkeley second, and any other one of them third.”
She did, then asked for my SAT scores, and that was it. I received a letter of admission to UCLA a few months later.
Today, if I applied to UCLA with those grades and scores, the counselor would laugh me out of the room. Admissions requirements have shot upward, students now padding resumes not only with 4.0 grades and 700+ scores on each part of the test, but also a passel of AP courses, summer internships, and troubling life experiences recounted in poignant detail on the personal statement in the application.

Continue reading Too Many Talented Students?

Colleges: Who Had The Money To Apply?

If you thought last fall’s staggering endowment drops were the end of collegiate financial troubles, you haven’t been paying attention. Another minefield awaited – application season. It wasn’t simply colleges that were feeling a pinch, so were their future customers. After decades of tuition increases that failed to dent application numbers, colleges were suddenly forced to contemplate declining enrollment as parents wondered whether $40,000-a-year for only-average colleges was really worth it. So profilgate universities would lose students to thriftier (and cheaper) peers? Well, partically. The issue is complicated – take a look at the developments that lead up to this application cycle. .
A number of elite institutions, in the last two years, have undertaken significant expansions of already-generous financial aid for lower and middle income students that have not been scaled back, and in fact loom even more attractive for a certain demographic of less-affluent applicant, for whom elite colleges are in fact likely to be cheaper than all but the most affordable public institutions.
One casualty of declining endowments has been a scaling back of financial aid at some colleges, or the tacit statement that the ability to pay full tuition can increase an applicant’s chances. This no doubt influenced some choices – improved chances of admission in paying for a full-ride? Bowdoin, a “need-blind” institution, has expanded its class by 50 over the next five years – slots imagined for transfer and foreign students – who do not receive “need blind” consideration. As Robert Sevier, an enrollment consultant, told the New York Times, “If you are a student of means or ability, or both, there has never been a better year.”

Continue reading Colleges: Who Had The Money To Apply?