Transparently Illegal
Racial preferences at colleges carry the weight of a freight car.


Peter Kirsanow

In a previous article I noted that illegal immigrants living in nine states (among them California, New York, and Texas) are eligible for in-state college tuition rates unavailable to U.S. citizens living outside of those respective states. This is part of a swiftly growing trend, with about 20 states considering joining the ones that currently extend in-state tuition rates to illegals. Furthermore, in most states illegals from preferred minority groups are eligible for preferences that improve profoundly their chances for admission to college. Illegal immigrants now can be used to improve campus “diversity”.

Since state legislators have decided, apparently, that granting in-state tuition rates and preferences to illegal immigrants is the wave of the future, then it would be only fair for such lawmakers to pass legislation similar to that proposed by Rep. Steven King (R., Iowa) requiring transparency in the college admissions process so that parents and students can make rational decisions concerning where the student should apply–i.e., to assess their odds of admission.

King’s proposal requires colleges to shed some light on what is presently a Byzantine, if not opaque, admissions process. King would have a college disclose, among other things, whether it uses preferences, the extent to which such preferences are weighted, and whether the school employs racial/ethnic “goals” and timetables.

King’s first attempt to get the bill passed failed a few weeks ago. During the floor debate, Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.) maintained that the bill was unnecessary because most colleges will readily provide the information sought by the bill.

I was intrigued by Miller’s contention. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan affirmative action case that sanctioned the use of race in the college admissions process, I asked my assistant, Chris Jennings, to send a survey to forty schools requesting much of the same information required under King’s bill.

Despite Miller’s assurances that colleges would supply the information, I received not one response to my inquiry. Instead, as reported at the time by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the survey set off a minor kerfuffle.

Among the questions in the survey were the following (condensed for brevity):

1. Does your school use racial targets, goals, or timetables in the admissions process? 
Colleges shouldn’t have been shy about responding to this question since Grutter permits elite colleges to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. Since nearly every non-open enrollment school (and even some open enrollment ones) uses racial/ethnic preferences in admissions, no one school would stick out.  Besides, since most colleges proudly trumpet their devotion to diversity, they should’ve been eager to respond.

2. What is the racial/ethnic composition of your school and what is the racial/ethnic composition of your applicant pool?

This question establishes a baseline for the extent to which colleges apply preferences.

3. To what extent does your school employ racial/ethnic preferences to increase or maintain racial/ethnic enrollment? (And a follow-up for more specificity would be “What is the median GPA/SAT of admitees from non-preferred racial/ethnic groups? From preferred racial/ethnic groups?”)

This is probably the point at which college administrators get nervous. At many elite schools the median GPA differential between non-preferred and preferred admitees is nearly a full point; the median SAT differential can exceed 200 points. This is a serious legal problem, because the Supreme Court only allows admissions offices to use race/ethnicity as a “plus”‘–a feather on the scale–to achieve diversity. But in practice, the right race/ethnicity has the weight of a rail car. The data just might reveal that few schools are actually complying with Grutter.

The data collected from questions such as those above would assist applicants in calculating their odds of admission to a particular school. Most schools already disclose the overall percentage of applicants that are admitted in any given year. But these figures are incomplete and misleading. They fail to reveal that an applicant’s chances of admission rise exponentially if he’s a preferred minority.

This type of information would allow students and families to pierce the admissions veil and make “informed, strategic application decisions.” An Asian student with a 3.5 GPA and 1300 SAT may decide not to waste an application fee on a school where his odds of admission are only one-tenth that of a preferred minority with a 2.5 GPA and an 1100 SAT.

Parents and students might also wish to know the weight accorded to residency status; the number of slots filled by applicants who are illegal immigrants; the extent to which diversity preferences are awarded to illegal immigrants, etc. Publication of the answers would have an interesting affect not just on the educational and public policy establishments, but on the market as well. More information would allow consumers (students and parents) to make more rational application and enrollment decisions.

–Peter Kirsanow is a member of the National Labor Relations Board. He is also a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. These comments do not necessarily reflect the positions of either organization.