Affirmative action proves not to be the best solution to provide diversity

Ashish Samaddar

Affirmative Action tackles the outcome, not the cause behind lack of minorities.

College decisions are tough to say the least. Once the application has been sent, your entire fate rests upon an admission board. Who knows what each college is looking for? After all, there are tens of thousands of applicants and limited seats so a denial may just mean many people were more or equally qualified.

But that is not often the situation. Through affirmative action policies, certain minority groups receive massive preference at many universities, especially private universities. While providing diversity, which in it of itself is a great goal, affirmative action is unfair to the “well-represented” groups and does not serve to help its supposed beneficiaries.

The basic implication is that underrepresented minority groups are denied opportunities at high school and in society and need that extra push in order to obtain a great education. However, the effort to march towards college diversity stifles the equal opportunity for other groups in attending a university they deserve to be admitted. The end result is different standards for different racial and ethnic groups.

According to Thomas J. Espenshade, Chang Y. Chung and Joan L. Walling of Princeton University regarding college acceptances at several ivy league and other top institutions in 1997, being African-American effectively grants an SAT bonus of 230 points (on the former and future 1600 scale) compared to Caucasian applicants, Hispanic-Americans have a bonus of 185 points while Asian-Americans have a disadvantage equivalent to 50 SAT points taken away.

Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade who interpreted the data above in 2009 suggested that after accounting for grades, SAT scores, legacy and athletic statuses, Asian-Americans are a third as likely as Caucasians, a sixth as likely as Hispanic-Americans and a fifteenth as likely as African-Americans to be admitted to top tier universities.

Effects of Affirmative Action on MVHS Students?
MVHS, with its predominantly Asian-American population, is significantly affected by affirmative action. The effects are noticeable when comparing the admission rates of MVHS students to California public universities and private universities.

Due to Proposition 209 passed in 1996, UC colleges and CSU’s are barred from practicing race, ethnic or gender based affirmative action, allowing for a closer judgment of academic merit. The shields against racial prejudice are conducive to MVHS students in gaining admission to a UC or CSU.

For instance, based on a three year pooled average from 2011 to 2013 of California acceptance rates for UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego — widely considered the three most prestigious UC’s — are 22.6 percent, 19.1 percent and 31.9 percent respectively. Meanwhile, according to self-reported acceptances on Naviance, the MVHS admission rate equivalents for those schools are 30.4 percent, 24.9 percent and 39.2 percent respectively. All results are higher than the state averages by over 5 percent.

While MVHS students are more successful in gaining admission to the UC’s, top-tier private university acceptances are a different story. Even though these schools have acceptance rates often times in the single digits, they also practice numerous forms of affirmative action such as race, gender, legacy, geographic and sports. The combination of these factors result in the admission rates amongst MVHS students to remain around equal or fall greatly below the already low national rate for many private universities.

Does Affirmative Action Serve Its Purpose?
Affirmative action can also harm its intended audience. For instance, if affirmative action permits an under qualified student to get accepted and enroll into a cutthroat top university, chances are that the student will struggle. Otherwise known as the “mismatch effect,” many such students face problems like lower grades and switching out of tougher majors when they attend universities that are too demanding for them.

The “mismatch effect” is particularly prominent in students pursuing STEM or graduate school. A study from Duke University shows that while 62 percent of its African-American students declared interest in majoring in a STEM subject, under 30 percent graduated in that degree. For white students, the attrition rates are much less, with 61 percent of students interested in majoring in STEM and 51 percent graduating in the subject.

In another study conducted by Richard H. Sander from UCLA Law school, roughly 50 percent of African-American students in law schools with comparable GPA’s and LSAT scores as their white peers find themselves at the bottom 10 percent of their class. Despite the similar scores, African-American students struggle more due to the preference they receive, which results in them attending a better ranked and tougher school.

Affirmative action students carry a certain stigma that is hard to overcome, especially if they do worse than their peers. Classmates then merely conclude that those students were accepted due to special preferences and do not truly deserve to be admitted. In the workforce, the affirmative action stigma still remains. Employers hire primarily based on qualifications and if a student, regardless of background, falters at university or previous jobs, underemployment of those minorities is a likely outcome.

Even though providing social mobility to minorities is needed in society, affirmative action hasn’t actually accomplish that. In fact, the wealth gap between Caucasians and African-Americans has more than quadrupled between 1984 to 2007. Average wealth gaps changed from $20,000 to about $95,000. While affirmative action may not be the cause of this, it has not fixed the problem it was made to solve. Had it been effective, race based affirmative action should definitely be continued. But for the last 50 years, since the Kennedy administration, racial preference has only provided gains in college admission and not much further.

What should be done?
While diversity is always a desired goal, college results should be as meritocratic as possible. To increase diversity, the goal should be to increase interest and technical skill for minorities through enrichment programs and through their schools. Affirmative action by race, ethnicity and gender tackle the effects of lack of diversity in colleges rather than the cause behind them.

Underrepresented minorities needed to be assisted at an earlier level of education. Resources need to be brought to help low income schools foster an interest in their students. Enrichment programs then need to take these interested students and give them in-depth theoretical and practical skills in their area of interest. This way minority students can be more equipped to handle the course load at challenging universities and will be able to succeed and utilize the opportunities provided by their university.

If no amount of effort can significantly close the gap for low income students, colleges should look at socioeconomic factors. The goal of affirmative action is to promote mobility and socioeconomic background is an important factor in perpetutating mobility. In addition, since some underrepresented minorities are generally lower income, socioeconomic factors are an indirect way to boost racial diversity. Whenever colleges do consider race, often times the African-Americans benefitted are from middle or upper classes, thereby not promoting as much social mobility.

Other prominent forms of affirmative action used by colleges include geography, athletics and legacy. The first two of these criterion are more ingenious than judging by race, sex or ethnicity. Colleges need to serve their local community and if a student is focusing on a college sports team then a slight preference is understandable.

If getting admitted due to a special preference does not correlate to increased success, getting denied because of a lack of special preference does not prevent success. College acceptances only bring validation for what one has already accomplished but those accomplishments still stand regardless. Success comes from an individual’s own pursuits. Amazing opportunities are available at any tier university, one merely needs to take advantage of them.