Phi Beta Cons

Questions about Diversity

The following is excerpted from an email sent to the Pope Center. It raises questions that apply equally (if not more so) to arguments found on Phi Beta Cons:

Colleges and universities have always wanted a diversity of students, but it didn’t seem to be a problem until the preferences of race and ethnicity started being included in the mix. Probably one of the best known is geographic preference, which has been going on for at least 50 years. An eastern college or university in New York or Massachusetts will give preference to an applicant from the Midwest or West over an applicant from New York or Massachusetts in order to achieve a certain amount of “diversity.” This preference is never included in articles or discussions I have read opposing racial or ethnic preferences in college and university admissions.


Colleges and universities also give preferences to the children and family members of their alumni and to the children and family members of large financial contributors. I know of a graduate school that had different standards for acceptance depending on what time of the year the person applied for admission. The school lowered the standards for the applicants who applied in the late spring compared to those who applied earlier in the year. The college was concerned that it wouldn’t have enough students for the next fall’s class.


I also know of a college that gave special preference to male applicants over female applicants by accepting males with lower GPA scores and lower test scores than they required of the female applicants. The college was afraid that it might become an all-female school. Aren’t these preferences “unfair” to other applicants? Why are they seemingly more acceptable than race and ethnicity?


In my opinion, race and ethnicity should be one of several factors used to determine the qualifications for admittance to colleges and universities. Colleges and universities have to use some kind of criteria in addition to grades and tests, and in choosing their criteria they are going to be making preferences. What preferences would be acceptable to opponents of racial and ethnic preferences and why would those preferences be better?


Or, are the opponents of racial and ethnic preferences saying that only grades, test scores, and “strict academic” criteria should be used to determine qualifications for college and university admission?

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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