Category Archives: Affirmative Action

July 15, 2015

Race-Based Admissions Bans On Medical Schools

Affirmative Action is still a highly debatable, controversial issue in medical school admissions. In institutions of higher education, affirmative action refers to admission policies that provide equal access to education for those groups that have been historically excluded or underrepresented, including women and minorities. Since the Supreme Court in the Fisher v. University of Texas case voided the lower appellate court’s ruling in favor of the University and remanded the case, there has been an even greater debate about the best practices in admissions.

Eight states have banned medical schools from considering race in admissions, which leads those schools to try other ways to recruit a diverse student body without explicitly asking for race. Schools are increasing their outreach in minority communities to try and reach more diverse applicants. Many schools look at applicants with other socio-econmic factors, like those who have overcome adversity, shown leadership, and displayed a variety of different activities. Others have been giving preference to working-class students or those whose parents did not attend college.

Since race-based admissions bans have passed, there has been noticeable changes in the amount of colored students attending college in states without affirmative action. Before the bans passed, approximately 18% of students were of color, and now after the bans, approximately 15% of students in states with bans are of color. In the example below from the NY Times, Hispanic freshman students at Berkeley have dropped significantly after approving the statewide ban on affirmative action.

Affirmative Action at Berkeley

Admissions offices are forced to think outside of the box to be able to sustain a diverse class.  At the University of Texas at Austin, they have enforced the Top 10 Percent plan, which allows three-quarters of the incoming class to be automatically admitted based on the students’ position in their high school class. The remaining students of the class are admitted after review of academic achievement and other factors.

What is your school proactively doing to maintain a diverse incoming class?

May 20, 2013

Connecting with High-Achieving, Low-Income Students

A recent study has revealed that top colleges are lacking in highly talented low-income students, even though many schools have implemented new programs that cater to this demographic. Many of these skilled students never attempt to apply at selective universities and, as a result, are missing out the opportunity to matriculate at elite universities even though these schools offer lucrative financial aid opportunities for low-income students.

Why don’t low income students apply?

The majority of high achieving middle- and high-income students have a set pattern of applying to a variety of schools – they apply to some schools that are on “par” with their GPA and test scores, some “safety” schools, and some “reach” schools. However, a majority of their low-income counterparts tend to stick to less selective institutions that enroll more low income students than the elite universities.

This trend can be traced back to the culture in which the low-income student grew up. Often, high achieving students from poor or rural districts do not have any role models who attended a competitive university; indeed, many of these students are the first in their families to consider attending college. For these students, there is no set path, and no experienced guide to let them know how, when, and why they should apply to a selective university.

True – There are some low-income students applying and being accepted at top-tier universities, but the study found that the majority of these students are coming from a “highly concentrated” group of selective high schools. These high schools have GPA requirements and staff that specialize in helping their students prepare for college. Inner city and rural public schools are largely unrepresented in these low-income applicant pools.

How can you connect with these students?

In a follow-up project from Stanford University, about 40,000 students from low-income, non-selective high schools were tracked as they made their college decisions. These students come from districts and schools where few, if any, graduates apply to elite colleges. These students then received a number of low-cost interventions to advise and educate them along the way, and to directly address concerns that poor families have during the application process.

Some of the interventions included; customized information about the true cost of college (as opposed to the “sticker price”), automatic application fee waivers to certain universities, and information about graduation rates. The results were dramatic. These students were significantly more likely to apply for admission and be accepted at competitive schools that typically enroll higher numbers of high-income students. They also found that these students performed as well or better than their peers who attended less competitive institutions.

So, the studies show that a small investment can yield big results when recruiting low-income students. But very few schools go to such lengths to attract students whose educations need to be subsidized by loans and other forms of private aid. Low income students simply don’t contribute towards the bottom line. As Unemployed Northeastern, an Inside Higher Education commenter said:

“…at the most elite schools, after they pencil in the legacy and athletic admits, the development cases, the scions of politicians and other wielders of power, the centuries-old quota from Deerfield and Exeter and similar, how many spots are really left for the great unwashed masses who have neither riches nor connections to their name? According to the Crimson, at Harvard… less than 5% of the class comes from the bottom quintile of household income and less than 20% comes from the bottom three quintiles of household income. Meanwhile, nearly 50% of Harvard students come from famlies with >$200,000 in income. In other words, just because college makes a show of trying to get more low-income students doesn’t mean they are actually trying to get more low-income students.

Although most colleges and universities will likely ignore the findings of Stanford’s recent study, perhaps their models for intervening on these students can find a place within low-income high schools’ advising and guidance departments.

How does your school recruit low-income groups?

October 31, 2012

Affirmative Action: Barrier or Benefit?

The admissions community has been receiving much attention and scrutiny in recent months because of the pending Supreme Court case, Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. In this case, Plaintiffs Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz applied at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 and were denied admission. They claim that they were discriminated against because of their race (they are both white females), saying that less-qualified minority students were granted admission in their stead.

The main point of contention at the center of this case is this; do the University of Texas at Austin’s diversity measures favor minority applicants? To get a better perspective on this question, let’s take a look at U. Texas’s admissions procedure.

In order to promote diversity and equal consideration for all prospective students, U. Texas uses the “Top 10% Rule,” wherein all students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class are automatically granted admission. This is not an “affirmative action” measure because minority status is not considered as a factor. In fact, this policy is a direct result of the first successful challenge of Affirmative Action in admissions (Hopwood v. Texas, 1997). However, the very nature of the Top 10% Rule ensures a degree of both geographic and ethnic diversity. Both of the plaintiffs in this case were not in the top 10% of their class, and therefore were subject to the school’s discretionary admissions procedure.

When considering prospective students that fall outside the top 10% of their high school class, the University of Texas employs a holistic approach. Race is a factor in this approach, but according to the school it is a “factor of a factor of a factor.” When considering a student for eligibility, the admissions team looks at class rank, test scores, high school curriculum, essays, community service, work experience, and “special circumstance.” Race is a consideration under the umbrella of “special circumstance.”

Officially, there are no quotas or special procedures for minority candidates at the University of Texas. However, the race of every applicant is recorded on the first page of every application. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court, a spokesperson for the school admits that that this serves to “cast the accomplishments of the individual in a certain light,” but that “An applicant’s race is considered only to the extent that the applicant, viewed holistically, will contribute to the broader vision of diversity desired by the university.”

Therefore, it is a stated fact that diversity is a goal of University admissions, whether it is ethnic, socioeconomic, or otherwise. The University of Texas at Austin advocates a diverse student body as a benefit to current students, campus life, and future employers. “If a company had 100 applications for five positions and just took the five with the highest grade point average without looking at anything else, I think people would be stunned,” said William Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas at Austin. “Grades are important, but there are other important indicia, like leadership and diligence. Grades don’t tell us who is going to have a proclivity, or aptitude, for geosciences, fine arts or teaching.”

This case reflects a shifting attitude on the relevance of affirmative action. Affirmative action was established by executive order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. This order prohibited publicly funded institutions (including colleges) from discriminating based on race, creed, color, origin, or gender. This resulted in public and private colleges factoring race into their admissions process as a means to counteract the societal hardships experienced by minority students, giving them a “leg up” in a situation where they otherwise may have experienced racial discrimination.

But many of today’s college-age students don’t view racism and discrimination in the same way as previous generations. Some people believe that affirmative action for minorities has run its’ course and it is no longer a benefit for minorities, but a barrier for qualified candidates that are considered alongside those minority candidates.

Students such as the the plaintiff Abigail Fisher view affirmative action for minority students as a form of “reverse discrimination,” wherein minorities are favored over majority groups. Fisher says, “There were people in my (high school) class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT. And the only difference between us was the color of our skin… I was taught from the time I was a little girl that any kind of discrimination was wrong. And for an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me.” For some critics of her position, there is irony in the fact that she – as a female – is technically a beneficiary of the same affirmative action policies that she is fighting against.

If the plaintiff’s claims are upheld in the Supreme Court, there is no way of knowing how it will affect campus diversity in public colleges and universities. In some schools, using race as a factor in admissions has already been outlawed, with mixed effects. As a result, schools such as UCLA and UC Berkeley, have experienced significant declines in African-American and Latino enrollment. In contrast, minority enrollment at the  University of Florida has bounced back and occasionally has exceeded what it was before affirmative action in admissions was banned by executive order of Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999.

When race is taken off of the table there are other methods for ensuring ethnic diversity in schools, such as looking at single parent status, socioeconomic position, using minority recruiters, recruiting at minority high schools, and maintaining financial aid programs that are tailored for minority students. However, these measures are certainly more expensive and are not guaranteed to be effective at achieving diversity.

No matter which way you look at it, this is a hotly contested debate that divides people on ideological lines. For some, eliminating affirmative action levels the playing field and allows all candidates to be viewed on merit alone. For others, it means taking a step backward and risking “resegregation” of society. In the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, only time will tell. A verdict is not expected in the case until early next year.