Average grades in hard classes are better than A’s in easy ones. Schools don’t need affirmative action to make diverse classes.
“In most cases, taking an AP class and getting a B is a better choice than getting an A in a regular one,” according to the Princeton Review. Kaplan, a test-prep business, agrees. What’s more, schools often weight difficult classes more heavily when tabulating GPAs, so these tips seem to make sense.
Not so fast. Yes, colleges and universities like to see students take challenging courses in high school. But in my experience covering education, selective schools usually don’t like grades below a B, and struggling in more than one tough class is not seen as a plus. So unless students can keep their grades in higher-level courses at or over the B range, it probably makes more sense to take regular classes.
Even though grade point averages are often boosted by challenging classes, which award more points than the typical 4.0 A, colleges can tell when a GPA is bloated, admissions officers say. As Peterson’s, an admissions and test-prep agency, explains, high schools use distinct grading systems and offer courses that have the same name but varying degrees of difficulty. And, as Peterson’s notes, many colleges have their own systems for recalculating GPAs.
“‘Diversity’ isn’t why colleges need affirmative action,” Bloomberg View’s Noah Feldman declared in 2012. The fact that some universities, like Texas A&M, have increased diversity while banning affirmative action might suggest that schools don’t need such programs to keep their campuses diverse. And like other opponents of affirmative action, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has argued that such policies are unfairly discriminatory and don’t help minority students, writing with David Sacks in Stanford’s alumni journal that “if ‘diversity’ were really the goal” of affirmative action programs, “then preferences would be given on the basis of unusual characteristics, not on the basis of race.”
But affirmative action programs do appear to increase diversity at colleges and universities. Though colleges are often cagey about releasing exact numbers on the subject, a look at what happens when such programs disappear tells a worrying story. When affirmative action programs are banned, black and Hispanic enrollment tends to lag. As Haley Munguia pointed out in 2015 at FiveThirtyEight, in states where affirmative action is banned, far fewer universities have shares of black and Hispanic students equal to those in the general population, while states with affirmative action have far better representation in black and Hispanic enrollment. At the University of Michigan, in particular, black enrollment fell 30 percent in the seven years after affirmative action was banned.
Today, affirmative action has lost much judicial support, and public opinion polls on these programs show mixed results. The Supreme Court permits race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities only to pursue “diversity” in student populations, not to compensate African Americans for centuries of racially discriminatory public policy. Meanwhile, most minority groups remain underrepresented on college and university campuses, even though most students enrolled at the country’s K-12 public schools are minorities.