Affirmative action not best for diversity, study suggests

By Jasper Craven

Affirmative action plans based on class — not race — might provide more diversity to the nation’s universities than affirmative action, a Century Foundation report released on Wednesday suggests.

“If college admissions officers want to be fair — truly meritocratic — they need to consider not only a student’s raw academic credentials, but also what obstacles [he or] she had to overcome to achieve them,” wrote Richard Kahlenberg, the main author of the report.

The report noted that U. Texas-Austin managed to create even higher levels of minority representation in 2004 using class-based affirmative action than in 1996, when schools considered race as a factor.

The report notes universities in nine states that have created an admissions process attentive not only to racial and ethnic diversity, but also to class inequality.

Seven states have banned affirmative action, an issue likely to face the Supreme Court and add debate to the upcoming elections.

Kahlenberg wrote that admissions officials should pay attention to “strivers,” students who overcame obstacles and succeeded despite socio-economic impediments.

The most economically disadvantaged student is expected to score 399 points lower on the SAT math and verbal sections than the most advantaged student, according to the report.

“Unlike race-based affirmative action, class-based preferences compensate for what research suggests are the more substantial obstacles in today’s world — those associated with socioeconomic status,” Kahlenberg wrote.

Boston U. students said affirmative action is a complex issue, but a diverse student population is necessary to create a well-balanced institution.

“Diversity is important,” said Katie Strelitz, a BU junior. “But diversity means more than just race, background and financial standing.”

Strelitz said it is up to BU to appeal to a wide range of students so that diversity is established.

Ryan Kell, a BU junior, said affirmative action is a touchy subject, and it is easy to sound racially discriminatory when talking about it.

“While I think, on principle, the idea of affirmative action is inherently unfair to the more qualified candidate, I acknowledge that there are still enormous disadvantages minorities face in society,” he said. “Solving them through college admissions may not be the most appropriate solution. Class definitely makes more sense, because ideally those of the lowest class are the people who need an education the most.”

Kell said the overall admissions process is ridiculous for a variety of reasons.

“It’s hard to not think of it as malarkey, because the mixed message we are sent is to make ourselves stand out, but then we’re judged by standardized test scores,” he said.

BU freshman Jess Feng said academic rigor should be the main factor considered by admissions officials.

“It’s very complicated,” he said. “I think that time spent in class working and grades should be weighted the most. But I think it is good for a school to have students with diverse cultures and backgrounds.”

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