Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Affirmative-Action Hangovers


Among the most interesting responses to MCRI, beyond “we’re going to stop it,” is the contemplation of “second best” options by affirmative-action supporters. “Outreach” options are mournfully considered, when in fact these efforts sound like entirely unambiguous improvements–for minority students. Consider a piece by Russell Olwell in Inside Higher Education “After the Vote, Moving On.”

Colleges and universities need to reach out to students to bring a message of hope — a college education is not out of reach, and that our colleges and universities remain committed to educating a diverse student population. Colleges and universities, if they work together, could use the assault on affirmative action as an opportunity to work together to better engage with the K-12 community. This work is difficult, long-term, labor intensive, frustrating and counter-cultural. Universities have traditionally had a “build it and they will come philosophy,” in which they build buildings, print application forms and expect a class of students to show up.

Undoubtedly such an effort would be more work–affirmative-action systems were profoundly lazy. They maintained an explicit assumption that the academic accomplishments or backgrounds of non-Asian minority applicants would be inferior and, instead of working to change this, simply shifted the bar clumsily to accommodate it. Now universities (in Michigan, at least) have a real interest in actually working to improve the stock of minority applicants, and by extension the education of all students at potentially-inferior high schools. There is a model for this, in California, which has seen minority enrollment climb after Proposition 209. As Olwell continues:

In California, Proposition 209 led to a drastic decline in minority enrollments in the flagship University of California institutions, but it has energized the California State University System, which has become the leader in school outreach, in college preparation and awareness, and in minority student enrollments. The passage of Proposition 209 has made both the University of California and Cal State system far more interested and involved in high school curriculum, and both systems have become far more explicit with students and high schools about the knowledge and skills that are prerequisites to college success.

This isn’t a “second best” option; it is absolutely superior. Olwell calls it the “morning after that bad night.” I’d say it wasn’t a bad night of MCRI but a veritable lost weekend of affirmative-action efforts that sought to lower standards instead of improve minority performance. This is a change much for the better, for all concerned.


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