Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

A Comment on ‘Racial Preferences by the Numbers’


A sentence in Robert’s NRO article Monday is hard for me to accept: “If we’re going to use our college admission practices to try to combat economic inequality, we should base our preferences on actual economic disadvantage rather than skin color.”

I don’t see how “class-based” affirmative action accomplishes anything. If a young person from a poor family has the capabilities to get into and through college, he’ll most likely succeed in life whether he starts off in a little-known college or at one of the Ivies.

There are, I think, two implicit assumptions in the “class-based” affirmative-action argument. One is that being boosted up to a more prestigious school than a student would otherwise attend provides him a large and long-lasting benefit. The second is that those whose parents are poor deserve such a benefit.

I don’t think the first assumption is true. Where you get in life depends overwhelmingly on your energy and capabilities. Your educational pedigree has just about nothing to do with that. (Going to the ideal school and having some inspirational professors can help, but there’s no reason to believe that the more prestigious schools are always better in that regard.)

As for the second, I don’t see that coming from a low-income family necessarily makes an individual deserving of preferences any more than coming from a family whose ancestors suffered great hardships does. Adverting to the discussion a few days back about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we ought to focus on individual character and ignore not only skin color but also the family bank statement.


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