The Corner


Adversity Scores: Same Game, Different Uniforms

Library on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle. (File photo: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)
Adversity Scores and Racial Discrimination in Admissions

The College Board’s announcement that it will begin calculating an adversity score for SAT takers appears another cosmetic attempt to boost the college-entrance prospects of black and Hispanic applicants without addressing the actual causes for the stunning achievement gap between White and Asian students on the one hand and black and Hispanic students on the other. Thus, it will perpetuate, if not exacerbate, the underlying problem.

The fact that the College Board declines to explain how it weighs and calculates various adversity factors gives the game away. For decades colleges have employed a variety of opaque formulas to determine admissions yet, curiously, regardless of the mechanics of  a given formula, admissions office alchemists always seem to produce remarkably similar racial demographics.

College administrators are well aware that their racially discriminatory admissions policies do not meet the standards set forth by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. The Court sanctioned the use of racial preferences in admissions provided, inter alia, race was only one factor among many — a mere feather on the scale — in the admissions process. In truth, the race of black and Hispanic applicants is an anvil on the scale, by far the most important component in an application.

Accordingly, college administrators know that the current regime of racial preferences is in perpetual legal jeopardy. The pending case of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard has them nervous. As Stuart Taylor notes, evidence adduced in that case reveals stunning disparities in the objective qualifications of black and Hispanic admitees versus white and Asian admitees.

For example, the average SAT scores of Asian students admitted to Harvard between 2010-2015 were 218 points higher than for black students; the average SAT scores for white students were 193 points higher than for black students.  Taylor notes that the size of the gaps in high school GPAs were just as massive. Indeed, but for racial preferences the number of black  students at Harvard would be only one-seventeenth its present size.

These disparities aren’t peculiar to Harvard. They pervade academia. And the consequences are painfully predictable. Because students admitted on the basis of profound racial preferences have a difficult time competing with students not so admitted, black and Hispanic students are several times more likely to rank in the bottom 10 percent of their respective classes, if not flunk out entirely. To remedy this, schools dumb-down curricula, inflate grades, and create ethnic navel-gazing courses. Failure is blamed on the dual scourges of discrimination and white privilege (although the relative  success of Asian students  inconveniently confounds that narrative).

The entire racial preference regime is a lie. And that lie begets more lies that beget yet more lies.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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