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The End of “Underrepresentation”—and Affirmative Action?



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There’s an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about two recent government reports that document the increase in minority and female enrollment at universities. Women and Asians are, we already knew, considerably “overrepresented” (that is, their share of the university population is much greater than their share of the general population). African Americans are not “underrepresented” anymore either, since as of 2003 they made up 13 percent of college students–versus 10 percent in 1993–the same or perhaps even a little more than their percentage of the general population. And “Hispanic students made the biggest gains in that decade,” says the article, up to 10 percent from 4 percent (but still below their general population share, which is now just slightly ahead of blacks).

Now, one must be careful in how one uses these numbers. For instance, the fact that Hispanics may still appear to be “underrepresented” does not take into account the fact that fewer Hispanics than other groups graduate from high school, a prerequisite to attending most colleges. On the other hand, the fact that you are enrolled in college doesn’t mean that you will graduate from college (the chances are only about 50-50). On the third hand, not all colleges are equal. On the fourth hand—well, you get the idea.

Still, the numbers do tend to show how untenable it has become to assert that racial preferences are necessary to ensure equal access to higher education in this country. And, indeed, a couple of other studies during the past week have concluded that schools are making less use of this sort of affirmative action (here and here). This is, one hopes, what even the defenders of preferences have professed to want—a withering away of preferences as time goes by.



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