Following Monday pleadingsthe consensus is that the Supreme Court of the United States is about to reverse affirmative action in college admissions, sparking fears among those who support the practice about what will happen to diversity on campus without it. Too few worry about what is happening with him now.
While the leaders of selective colleges loudly proclaim their support for affirmative action, many of their institutions actually undermine diversity and socioeconomic mobility in ways that calcify, if not deepen, inequalities. No matter what the court decides, this should stop. If colleges are not improving on their own, there are many policy and policy levers to force meaningful change.
Currently, top colleges widely use a series of practices that are actually affirmative action for the wealthy. Consider the premium given to children of alumni, the so-called inherited preference, and that provided by the early decision admissions process, which is available to those well off enough to commit to attending college without never see financial aid.
The inherited preference is worth the equivalent of one 160 point boost on the SAT. It is widely used in top schools. our Ladyfor example, admits many more white students who have benefited from an inherited preference than black and Latino enrolled students, combined.
A request under an advance ruling is worth an extra fee 100 SAT points. Applicants for an early decision are more than twice as likely to be white and high income like their regular decision peers. At Washington University-St Louis, there are more than three times more early decisions registered as Pell Scholarship Students of families earning less than $60,000 a year. At the University of Pennsylvania, a quarter of the legacies register via an early decision.
Together, inheritance and early decision influence the admission of more than 50 percent enrolled in selective colleges. At Grinnell in Iowa, for example, they make up more than 70% of students; at Maine’s Bates College, it’s over 80%.
For the few working-class students who pass a selective college’s admissions office, schools frequently and increasingly undermine them by awarding so-called “merit-based aid” to their more affluent peers. According to own datain 2020, Olivet College of Michigan offered a larger tuition discount to families earning $75,000 to $110,000 a year than it offered financial aid to students from families earning less than 30 $000.
Finally and perhaps most disappointingly in too many colleges, those from disadvantaged backgrounds still face an unwelcoming culture on campus. About 82 percent white state of michigan students graduate within six years of initial enrollment, but only 63% of black students do.
Since peer institutions like Rutgers, the University of Texas, and black students graduating from the University of Florida at a Clip 20 to 25% higher, the graduation gap in the state of Michigan should be unacceptable. But no one is holding schools like Michigan State accountable for student outcomes.
The fact is, very few selective colleges focus on working-class and racial-minority students in a way that extends from recruitment and admissions to financial aid and on-campus student support. at graduation. Yet this type of effort is exactly what is needed to highlight a significant commitment to diversity.
With or without affirmative action based on race, we should support and push colleges to stop undermining diversity and hold them accountable for results. There are concrete ways to do this.
Each selective college can single-handedly end policies such as inherited preference, early admission, and financial aid given without consideration of economic need. They can invest more in targeted student support services and faculty diversity efforts.
Colleges can recruit and admit more students from working-class and middle-income backgrounds. They can institute class-based affirmative action policies extra charge race-conscious policies.
When the colleges themselves fail to act, policy makers can and should.
Colorado disallow inherited preference in public college admissions. More states should do the same. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.) have federal bill to ban it and donor preferences.
At New York, there is legislation that would push colleges to end the early decision or contribute to the state’s need-based financial aid program available to students from other schools. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) Proposed conceptually similar college liability legislation at the federal level.
The State of Michigan, to its credit, recently increase in financial assistance based on need, but it did not require colleges to do the same with their own institutional financial aid. It should revamp its state college aid formula to be based on an institution’s need and reward schools that distribute financial aid based on it.
The very big stick is state and federal tax policy. Colleges, which receive more 150 billion dollars per year in the direct support of federal taxpayers, must do more than pretend to promote socioeconomic diversity and mobility. If they don’t, they should either be taxed more on endowment growth than according to the 2017 GOP tax law or lose their charitable tax status. If they are good actors, they can and should be taxed less.
But if colleges and policymakers don’t act, it’s time for alumni and academic and philanthropic partners to start conditioning contributions by donating to “escrow accounts” that schools can only tap into. achieving measurable access and completion goals.
Affirmative action can be a divisive issue, but insisting that colleges make a significant commitment to diversity and socio-economic mobility should not be. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.
Michael Dannenberg is the former senior education adviser to the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and is currently a senior scholar at College Promise. Her work is supported by the nonpartisan Kresge Foundation based in Troy, Michigan.