Affirmative Action


 Prop. 209 Is Just Fine


California will not solve its higher education diversity problems by bringing affirmative action back into the admissions process. 

Racial diversity and minority underrepresentation in California’s schools has been a hot-button issue for half a century, but a proposed amendment to California Proposition 209 that would lift the ban on “affirmative action” in UC and CSU admissions has stirred up quite the controversy.

Proposition 209 was originally signed into law in 1996, and effectively banned state institutions from discriminating based on “race, ethnicity, color, sex or national origin” when considering candidates for employment or education admissions. Officially, this would mean that college admissions officers could not prioritize these criteria when considering candidates for admission. Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which has already been passed by the State Senate, seeks to exempt state universities, like the UC system, from those rules in an attempt to increase the proportions of students from underrepresented minority backgrounds. In a system that had 4.2-percent black admissions and 27.6-percent Latino admissions in spring 2013, this would likely mean higher enrollment for students of these backgrounds.

But as much as we support diversity and advocate equality in admissions, we don’t think that bending admissions standards to prioritize underrepresented groups will deal with the underlying problems in higher education. While the intentions behind SCA-5 are good, the Universities of California should not reject qualified candidates in favor of meeting race-based quotas.

Under the UC system’s current admissions protocol, dubbed “holistic review,” an applicant’s race is not the primary determinant of their chances, as it is in the affirmative action system. Admissions officers assign each student a score, to which the circumstances associated with a student’s race or background contributes, along with the usual academics and extra-curricular activities. While this might be helpful in deciding between two nearly identical candidates, the purely race-based admissions methods that SCA-5 will give way to are steps in the wrong direction.

Arbitrarily boosting minority candidates’ applications tends to hurt the very students that the policy is intended to help. Graduation rates for underrepresented groups in state universities show that putting students with low high school performance into a rigorous academic environment will not help them succeed. Statistics from California’s Postsecondary Education Commission show that black and Latino men and women are, on average, 10 percent less likely than their counterparts to complete their degree over a 4-to-6 year period. While there are certainly thousands of high-achieving students from minority backgrounds, it seems as though students who have been accepted on the basis of their ethnicity may end up struggling. We feel that these students would be better served and more likely to earn their way into prestigious universities if California took the initiative beginning with early education to help them succeed.

Statistics seem to show, in fact, that the education inequality gap emerges earlier in education. According to the California Department of Education, Hispanic/Latino children make up just over 52 percent of California’s K-12 public school student demographic but constitute only 30 percent of applicants to the UC system. In contrast, Asian-American students make up around 11 percent of the K-12 population but 44 percent of applicants to the UC. The problem doesn’t lie in admissions to the UC, which proportionally have a fairly close correlation to applications. The problem is the lagging number of minority high school students applying to colleges.

Accordingly, investment in primary and secondary schooling for underrepresented minorities may hold the solution. The UCSD-run charter Preuss School, which exclusively admits would-be first-generation college students, turns out high school graduates that are accepted to four-year colleges, including prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale and MIT. School programs should focus on motivating the many talented but underrepresented children who come through their doors. With a supportive environment and an interactive curriculum that could include anything from the arts to robotics, schools can take steps to ensure that these students can apply to college with the same academic background as their white and Asian-American peers.
Thousands of highly qualified students from other ethnic backgrounds are already turned away from the UC system every year, and the number is only expected to increase if the bill passes. Accepting more minorities is all very well, but every seat given is one taken away from another potential student. The highest-achieving college entrants systemwide have historically been of white and Asian-American ethnicity, and we feel that is unfair for academically stellar students to be passed up because of their race alone.
While we appreciate the efforts of those in the state legislature to try and level the playing field for students of all races, we suggest that they look to alternative methods. Engaging and improving primary and secondary education can help bright, underrepresented minority students get the academic experience they need for success without suggesting they need special accommodations to get there.

Source: The Guardian 

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