The bias in col­lege ad­mis­sions

The Jus­tice Depart­ment plans to tar­get dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies. But the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries are whites.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - F the Trump

Iad­min­is­tra­tion re­ally in­tends to ex­am­ine dis­crim­i­na­tory col­lege-ad­mis­sion poli­cies, as a New York Times re­port sug­gests, it had best be pre­pared for what it will find: A lot of white peo­ple who ben­e­fit from ad­mis­sion pref­er­ences that have been around far longer than af­fir­ma­tive action.

That re­al­ity may sur­prise this ad­min­is­tra­tion, which rode a wave of white re­sent­ment into of­fice — a re­sent­ment its lead­er­ship con­tin­ues to fan. Yet Pres­i­dent Trump is in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the ways that col­lege ad­mis­sions prac­tices aid mem­bers of the wealthy white es­tab­lish­ment.

The three Trump chil­dren who at­tended the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia were el­i­gi­ble for legacy pref­er­ences — the boost that most pri­vate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties give to the chil­dren of alumni. Over­whelm­ingly, it ben­e­fits white peo­ple.

So does the ad­van­tage of hav­ing a well­con­nected or fa­mous rel­a­tive. At the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that rec­om­men­da­tions from state leg­is­la­tors and other in­flu­en­tial peo­ple helped un­der­qual­i­fied stu­dents gain ac­cep­tance to the school. This is the same school that had to de­fend its af­fir­ma­tive action pro­gram for racial mi­nori­ties be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court. The court up­held the pro­gram last year, rul­ing that uni­ver­si­ties may con­sider race as one of mul­ti­ple fac­tors in ad­mis­sions.

Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s civil rights di­vi­sion plans to in­ves­ti­gate and pos­si­bly sue col­leges for ad­mis­sions poli­cies that it de­ter­mines to be in­ten­tion­ally racially dis­crim­i­na­tory. Though the de­tails are un­clear, the tar­get seems to be af­fir­ma­tive action pro­grams that help high-achiev­ing stu­dents of color gain a leg up on ad­mis­sions. The depart­ment al­most cer­tainly won’t be go­ing af­ter the agesold poli­cies that have long given white stu­dents the ad­van­tage — poli­cies that this Jus­tice Depart­ment might ar­gue are only dis­crim­i­na­tory in ef­fect, not in­tent.

And those de facto ad­van­tages run deep. Beyond legacy and con­nec­tions, con­sider good old money. “The Price of Ad­mis­sion: How Amer­ica's Rul­ing Class Buys Its Way into Elite Col­leges — and Who Gets Left Out­side the Gates,” by Daniel Golden, de­tails how the son of for­mer Sen. Bill Frist was ac­cepted at Prince­ton af­ter his fam­ily do­nated mil­lions of dol­lars. Busi­ness­man Robert Bass gave $25 mil­lion to Stan­ford Univer­sity, which then ac­cepted his daugh­ter. And Jared Kush­ner’s fa­ther pledged $2.5 mil­lion to Har­vard Univer­sity, which then ac­cepted the stu­dent who would be­come Trump’s son-in-law. Th­ese stu­dents may have won ad­mis­sion with­out their par­ents’ do­na­tions, but the con­tri­bu­tions gave them an ad­van­tage that less well-heeled ap­pli­cants couldn’t match.

Se­lec­tive col­leges’ hunger for ath­letes also ben­e­fits white ap­pli­cants above other groups. Th­ese re­cruited ath­letes typ­i­cally “com­mit” to a univer­sity long be­fore other stu­dents are even al­lowed to sub­mit their ap­pli­ca­tions. And once ad­mit­ted, they gen­er­ally un­der-per­form, get­ting lower grades than other stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by the Jack Kent Cooke Foun­da­tion.

“More­over,” the re­port says, “the pop­u­lar no­tion that re­cruited ath­letes tend to come from mi­nor­ity and in­di­gent fam­i­lies turns out to be just false; at least among the highly se­lec­tive in­sti­tu­tions, the vast bulk of re­cruited ath­letes are in sports that are rarely avail­able to low-in­come, par­tic­u­larly ur­ban schools.” Those in­clude stu­dents whose sports are crew, fenc­ing, squash and sail­ing, sports that aren’t of­fered at pub­lic high schools. The thou­sands of dol­lars in pri­vate train­ing is far beyond the reach of the work­ing class.

If the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion seeks to cre­ate some sort of pure mer­i­toc­racy, it will have to con­sider th­ese and other ques­tions. What is merit, af­ter all, in aca­demics? It has been de­fined in terms of grades and test scores, but what about per­se­ver­ance, hard work and con­tri­bu­tions to the com­mu­nity? For that mat­ter, any in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be ready to find that white stu­dents are not the most put-upon group when it comes to race-based ad­mis­sions poli­cies. That ti­tle prob­a­bly be­longs to Asian Amer­i­can stu­dents who, be­cause so many of them are stel­lar achiev­ers aca­dem­i­cally, have of­ten had to jump through higher hoops than any other stu­dents in or­der to gain ad­mis­sion.

Faced with more qual­i­fied ap­pli­ca­tions from women, many col­leges ac­cept a higher per­cent­age of male ap­pli­cants in the in­ter­est of more bal­anced classes. Is that wrong too?

Af­fir­ma­tive action pro­grams that give some con­sid­er­a­tion to mi­nor­ity ap­pli­cants aren’t be­stow­ing a fab­u­lous special priv­i­lege that el­e­vates some races over oth­ers. They are at­tempt­ing to level the play­ing field just a bit af­ter their own ad­mis­sions poli­cies gave the edge to white stu­dents for gen­er­a­tions, ad­mis­sions poli­cies that un­ac­count­ably and un­fairly per­sist to this day.

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