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Mismatch: A Problem With Affirmative Action


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The following article is a personal expression of the author’s viewpoint and does not represent the thoughts and opinions of The Scroll staff or the faculty and administration of Cincinnati Country Day School. A reminder that while The Scroll is publicly accessible, its contents represent the work of young thinkers in a school setting. A forum will be open on Monday, February 5 during lunch to openly discuss the issues addressed in the following piece. This article is related to its counterpoint article “The Benefits of Affirmative Action”, which can be found here. –The Scroll Staff and Mr. Tracey-Miller

by Daniel Nesbitt ’18, Contributor

This purpose of this editorial is to examine one aspect of affirmative action policies in college admissions, not in employment after college, and the negative effects of “mismatch.”

With the recent lawsuit against Harvard university that was filed by a group of Asian students, affirmative action in the United States, particularly relating to university admissions, has risen to the surface as an important issue. The term “affirmative action” was first used by President Lyndon B. Johnson in a 1965 executive order that required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” However, it has greatly changed since then.

The first Supreme Court Case involving affirmative action policies was Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. It upheld the policy, but it is important to note that racial quotas were explicitly banned.  More recently, in 2003 the Grutter v. Bollinger decision concluded that the consideration of race in the admissions process was allowed if it was used to achieve diversity. This decision marked a significant change in the purpose of affirmative action policies. It was no longer “reparative justice for people who have traditionally been oppressed,” as Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy defines it, but rather to achieve diversity in universities and in the workplace.

In the early years of affirmative action significant progress was made. A 1998 study by economists William Bowen and Derek Bok found that from 1960 to 1995, the percentage of African-Americans aged 25-29 that had graduated college had jumped 10%. Furthermore, during that same time period the percentage of black medical students rose from 2.2% to 8.1% and the percentage of law students rose from just under 1% to 7.5%. Many see these data and conclude that affirmative action is solely responsible for this positive change, however one must examine more data to fully understand the situation. Renowned economist Thomas Sowell acknowledged that black education levels began rising, as well as poverty levels falling in the ‘40s and ‘50s as more blacks migrated out of the South and into more major cities, so this likely contributed to these data as well. It is undeniable that affirmative action has, in the past, been a necessity and a great benefit to minorities. In their beginning years, affirmative action policies greatly helped women advance in the workplace, but as of 2015 there were approximately 2 million more women enrolled in undergraduate school than men. There comes a point when the affirmative action policies are no longer needed.

While many argue that this added diversity is beneficial, they may overlook the fact that university affirmative action policies damage the very people that they seek to help. This damage that I’m referring to is a phenomenon known as “mismatch.” As most, if not all, universities use race as an admissions preference, some black students are admitted to a university for which they are underprepared or underqualified. Though many black students do well, Affirmative Action can have detrimental effects on the academic success of black students. In the past 20 years there has been a great deal of research investigating the effects of mismatching. One study found that mismatch causes black college students to abandon the fields of science and engineering at twice the rate of white students. In addition, another study found that approximately half of black college students rank in the bottom quintile of their classes, sinking even lower to the bottom 10% in law school. In another study, UCLA Law Professor Richard H. Sander found that black law school graduates are four times as likely to fail bar exams than white law school graduates. Furthermore, not only does mismatching hurt black students academically, but also socially. In a 2007 by three Duke Economics Professors, they found that black and Hispanic college students are more socially integrated at colleges where they are less academically mismatched. While affirmative action policies have increased minority enrollment, it is still pernicious to minority students. In fact, the rate of progress of African-Americans was greater both before and during “equal opportunity” policies than it has been during “affirmative action” policies.

One example that demonstrates the negative effects of affirmative action on minority students comes from UCLA. The university treated race as an important factor in admissions, however in 1996, California Proposition 209 amended the state’s constitution to prohibit public universities from discriminating based on race, sex, or ethnicity. Shortly after this policy was instituted, minority enrollment decreased as expected, with a 50% drop in black freshman enrollment and a 25% drop for Hispanics. Despite this decrease in enrollment, one key fact stands out: In the five years before proposition 209, the total number of black and Hispanic students graduating and receiving degrees was the same as the first five years after. This is demonstrative of the negative effects of mismatch. Proposition 209’s ban on racial preferences allowed admitted students at UCLA to be much better matched for the difficulty of the university. In fact, the black four-year graduation rate doubled from the early ‘90s (before Proposition 209) to the years after Proposition 209. Because the admissions process was truly merit-based, it is expected that the graduation rate would rise. Is it worth it to enroll more students of color but have more dropout with no added increase in the number of minority students that graduate successfully?

Furthermore, there is no limiting principle on how long affirmative action policies will be in place. How will it be decided that admissions policies can become a meritocracy? Will it be when all ethnicities are represented equally in undergraduate education, or when ethnicities are at the same proportion of the USA’s total population? These are just some of the many difficult questions about affirmative action policies that need to be answered.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against these affirmative action policies, universities across the country continue to institute these policies. Why do they continue to uphold these policies that negatively affect the very people they seek to help?

Instead of trying to level the playing field at college when students are already too far behind, there needs to be greater change in education at local and state levels, when students are younger, to ensure that students all have equal opportunity for a good primary and secondary education.

 

Sources:

http://www.businessinsider.com/harvard-professor-on-affirmative-action-2017-8

https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cha.asp

https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21576658-first-three-pieces-race-based-preferences-around-world-we-look-americas

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/the-painful-truth-about-affirmative-action/263122/

http://www2.law.ucla.edu/sander/Systemic/final/SanderFINAL.pdf

http://www.seaphe.org/pdf/arcidiacono-social.pdf

https://ballotpedia.org/California_Affirmative_Action,_Proposition_209_(1996)

Thomas Sowell, The Quest for Cosmic Justice

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Mismatch: A Problem With Affirmative Action