Oct 152003
Authors: Steven Shulman

On Oct. 2 a panel of CSU administrators discussed “the facts

about affirmative action.” All seemed to agree that affirmative

action benefits everyone and harms no one; that ethnic minority

students do not receive preferential treatment; and that students

are only admitted if they have the academic skills they will need

to graduate.

However, the facts about CSU admissions show that all of this is

wishful thinking. CSU assigns an index score to applicants derived

from their high school rank, GPA, and SAT score. Applicants are

supposed to have an index score of at least 101 to be admitted.

However, some students are admitted through a special “window,”

meaning that they are admitted even though their index scores fall

below the minimum.

According to CSU’s Office of Budgets and Institutional Analysis

(OBIA), last year about 20 percent of minority freshman came in

with very low index scores of 95 or below, compared to about 5

percent of majority students.

These low scores represent serious deficiencies in academic

preparation. Affirmative action increases the number of ethnic

minority students on campus, but it only does so by admitting more

students who are less likely to graduate.

The OBIA data clearly show that graduation rates are correlated

with index scores. About two-third of the students with the lowest

index scores drop out within five years, compared to about

one-third of the students with the highest index scores.

Furthermore, the chances are good that many of those with high

index scores fail to graduate because they transfer to other

universities, while those with low index scores are more likely to

drop out of higher education altogether.

Since minority students are more likely to have low index

scores, they are less likely to graduate. The gap is especially

acute with African-American students, only 45 percent of whom have

graduated or are still enrolled after five years. Among

European-American students the comparable figure is 65 percent.

The news is not all bad. Many minority students have strong

academic skills and do well. The graduation rate of

Hispanic-American students has risen sharply over the past few

years and now stands at 60 percent. The poor grades and high drop

out rates of some minority students should not be generalized to

all minority students.

Nonetheless, there is no denying that the students who receive

the greatest boost from affirmative action are the ones who are

most likely to struggle academically. The only effect of

affirmative action on well-prepared minority students is to

surround them with unsuccessful peers. It is hard to see how this

helps anyone.

Affirmative action would not be necessary in the absence of the

large, well-documented, ethnic gap in academic skills. For example,

African-American students nationally score 200 points lower than

European-American students on the SAT. As long as the SAT is a

factor in college admissions – and none of the panelists proposed

scrapping it – then diversity goals cannot be achieved in the

absence of significant preferences.

University administrators have spent years denying that

affirmative action means preferential treatment. They insist that

ethnicity is just one factor among many in the admissions process.

Their purported goal is merely one of educational quality, which

they identify with diversity.

Unfortunately, none of these statements can stand up to factual

scrutiny. To achieve diversity goals, many minority students are

admitted with inadequate qualifications. Ethnicity then becomes the

dominant factor in the admissions process. The result is higher

drop out rates, not better educational quality.

If administrators think that the benefits of preferential

treatment outweigh its harms, then let them say so and explain

their reasoning. But let’s at least honestly acknowledge the facts

about affirmative action.

Steven Shulman is a professor of economics. He teaches and

writes about poverty, inequality and discrimination.




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