By Matthew Yglesias. Read the whole thing, but here are the highlights:
People who are plausible admission candidates at Harvard and don’t quite make the cut end up at Columbia or Penn. People who don’t get into Berkeley go to UCLA. And they all end up fine. There’s just absolutely no need to cry for someone who got into Bryn Mawr instead of Wellesley thanks to affirmative action or legacy preference or structural bias in the SAT or anything else. This is a made-up social problem. Every single American teenager who winds up at a selective college of any kind is in very good shape in a country where (a) most people don’t have college degrees and (b) most colleges aren’t selective.
If you were to start writing a list of the problems faced by poor people in the United States of America you’d run out of paper long before you got to elite university admissions policies. Poor kids start school already behind their higher-SES peers. They are then disproportionately concentrated in low-performing schools featuring ineffective teachers. And when they’re in school is the lucky time! Every summer, the schools shut down and poor kids fall further behind their middle class peers. If they depend on the school lunch program to feed them, well then they’re out of luck come summertime on the eating front as well as the schooling front. A very substantial proportion of kids from poor families drop of out of highschool and those who do manage to get into any kind of college at all have much [lower] odds of actually graduating.
Yglesias and I disagree on how much we can and should do about all that, of course, but as far as this post goes, he’s right on the money.
I should add, though, that the issue isn’t just about the effects of the policy, but also about the fact that in order for the policy to exist in the first place, our government has to carve out exceptions to anti-discrimination laws to allow discrimination against whites and Asians. In this way it’s like the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation controversy — a small issue that reveals a deeper problem with our enforcement of civil-rights laws.