Suppose that the Supreme Court rules against racial preferences in Fisher – should college and universities that are intent on keeping themselves sufficiently diverse then switch over to low-income preferences? A recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation argues that our top schools should adopt such preferences even if racial preferences remain, but that they’d be a great substitute if the Court declares racial preferences unconstitutional. Is there anything to be said for embracing preferences for good students from lower income families?
In today’s Pope Center article, I argue there is not. Whether or not the “elite” colleges and universities necessarily provide a better education (a very dubious idea), a preference for lower income students is apt to create academic mismatch problems just as the current racial preference policies do. Moreover, adding a new preference will merely mean that these schools have to reject other students with academic backgrounds at least as good or better than the ones who would be preferred because of their socio-economic status. Therefore, the recommended preferences won’t do anything to give the nation a “better educated workforce” as the report claims.
There are, however, some good points in the report. It makes a good case against preferences for legacy kids and for athletes who’ll help the school win games. I would be glad to see schools abandon those preferences and concentrate on academic qualifications.
Also, it highlights the successes that the foundation’s “Cooke Scholars” have had. Those are the sorts of students that the reports wants admission preferences for, but without such preferences, the foundation has assisted them in finding their ideal schools, helping them financially, and provided other assistance so the students can graduate. (Interestingly, those students don’t always go to colleges we’d regard as particularly prestigious.) Targeted philanthropy like that is far better than having colleges set up another category of preference that’s apt to produce a lot of mismatches.