Phi Beta Cons

Graduation Rates and Affirmative Action: Nothing to See Here

Awhile back I blogged about a report from the group Education Sector — it was about the racial disparities in graduation rates, but didn’t bother mentioning the words “affirmative action.”

The group’s co-director doesn’t change that in a new piece:

If they really wanted to graduate more low-income and minority students, colleges would treat them more like big-time athletes. . . . while students are eligible to play sports, colleges and universities know exactly how to help these students succeed.

The stereotype is that athletes take easier classes, but the more mundane reality is that the student-athletes you just saw competing in the NCAA tournament enjoy an undergraduate experience vastly different from the average student. . . . if they do struggle, a robust support network awaits. After all, universities make a substantial investment in student-athletes, and they want to protect that investment.
The problem isn’t preferential treatment for athletes. It’s the conspicuous absence of such support for poor and minority students who would benefit from tutoring, special study halls and other programs to help them adjust to college life. It is easy to forget the culture shock that college can be for someone who is the first in his family to go or someone not fully prepared for college-level academics. Providing such support does take money, but colleges must see the success of these students as an investment just as important as star athletes. As such, they should budget accordingly.

A number of crucial problems here. One, is there any actual data to back up the assertion that it’s not preferential treatment, and not easier classes, but instead tutoring that helps athletes survive college? It wouldn’t shock me if tutoring contributes, but very few “stereotypes” come out of nowhere.
Also, the “investment” colleges have in athletes is that athletes bring people to games and increase the profile of the school — in fact, if college athletes were treated according to market principles, many would get paid to attend. Poor students, by contrast, already cost the school money through financial aid. In terms of “investment,” it’s not at all the same thing; one could even say that athletes bring in money for the schools to spend on tuition for poor students.
Finally, affirmative action. If a student is not capable of surviving in a given institution without a huge tutoring investment above and beyond what other students get, shouldn’t he be going somewhere else, or even right into the workforce? Is it really a good idea to have schools cater to those “not fully prepared for college-level academics”?