Defending ‘diversity’ at all costs

In “Elites to Anti-Affirmative-Action Voters: Drop Dead,” in the new City Journal, Heather MacDonald describes how the University of California twisted and turned and to defend “diversity” in response to the state initiative banning racial and ethnic preferences. At Berkeley and UCLA, the most competitive campuses, affirmative action had admitted blacks and Hispanics with significantly lower test scores, MacDonald writes.

The median SAT score of blacks and Hispanics in Berkeley’s liberal arts programs was 250 points lower (on a 1,600-point scale) than that of whites and Asians.

. . . Even though preference beneficiaries often chose the easiest majors — there were, and still are, virtually no blacks and Hispanics in the most competitive engineering and computer science majors, for example — … the average six-year graduation rate for blacks and “Chicanos” (California-speak for Mexican-Americans) admitted from 1991 to 1997, the last year of preferences, was about 20 percent below that of whites and Asians.

In 1998, when the university dropped explicit racial preferences, but hadn’t yet subsituted “stealthy surrogates for race,” the admitted minority students were much better prepared to succeed at elite colleges.

At Berkeley, the median SAT gap shrunk nearly in half, to 120 points; black and Hispanic admits logged an impressive 1,280 on their combined SATs. The six-year graduation rates of this class would increase 6.5 percent for blacks and 4.9 percent for Hispanics, compared with the class admitted two years earlier.

There after, the university began admitted more students based on “holistic” critera and fewer on the basis of grades and test scores.

There is a move to expand the pool of students qualified for the University of California — now defined in terms of grades and test scores — to include C+ students who are deemed to display “spark” and “leadership” skills and students who’ve overcome hardships such as poverty and racism.

As this San Jose Mercury News editorial explains, diversity advocates misread UC-Davis research that shows these fuzzy attributes don’t make up for weak academic preparation. In fact, students who’ve faced hardships, such as family poverty, are less likely to complete a degree compared to students with similar academic qualifications who have less to handle in their personal lives.

High school grades and SATs combined explain only a quarter of students’ success in college, the UC report says. But when UC stretches the rules to admit less-qualified students, they’re much less likely to succeed. The six-year UC graduation rate was 79 percent for academic admits who started in 1996, 52 percent for those “admitted by exception.”

. . . Of all the non-academic factors, only leadership and athletic ability boost the graduation rate, the study found. And students admitted because of leadership skills don’t do as well as those admitted on academics alone.

. . . It’s fine to discuss alternatives to the master plan, but we don’t think sending more C students to four-year colleges is going to make California a smarter state.

What a great editorial. OK, I wrote it in the fall when I was a temp editorial writer back at the Merc.

University of Michigan is now facing the same challenge as University of California: How do you get racial and ethnic diversity at a state’s flagship universities when so few black and Hispanic students are prepared for high-level university work? You either play games with admissions — UM may give a break to Detroit students — or you strengthen K-12 education. The latter is much, much harder.

Discriminations points out another strategy in use by selective universities: Admit black students from the Caribbean and Africa, often the children of well-educated professionals. The more selective the school, the more likely black students come from immigrant families, most commonly from Jamaica, Nigeria, Haiti and Ghana. At Columbia, Penn, Princeton, and Yale, 41 percent of black students were first- or second-generation immigrants.

Non-native black students are more likely to tackle rigorous majors, such as engineering.

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  1. Jason Bontrager says:

    I still don’t understand why Balkanization, aka Diversity, is seen as such an overwhelmingly good thing. It seems to be a matter of religious devotion now.

  2. It’s proof of moral superiority for people with low standards of evidence.

  3. One other bad effect of the “upsizing” of marginal college students is the “set up to fail” problem. If everyone’s equally admitted, a lot of these marginal students would go to less demanding colleges and could do quite well. With the current arrangement, these students are forced into a no-win situation and flunk out. I suppose some few may discover an inner genius they didn’t display in high school, but most will just drop out of university and not return.

    I saw a study of law school admits that demonstrated this: each “level” of school basically dragged students from the level below, creating a sort of academic “Peter Principle” that forced higher failure rates for everyone.

  4. Note these kids never make it into the engineering school at Cal at all. that school’s standards have not fallen, regardless of the bigger school changes in admissions.

    There are some majors at Cal that sort of exist in two colleges, the emg school and the letters & sciences school. ?These include Computer Science (instead of EE-CS), physics (instead of eng physics), and a few others. the L&S school requirements are significantly lower than the eng school. as an entering freshman, though, you had to pick which college to apply to. so you had to decide if you could get into th eng school, or you had to game it, It used to be possible to backdoor into CS this way, so kids who thought they couldn’t get into the eng school would then apply to these majors. Now, that method is so overenrolled that only a tiny sliver make it in. the racial mix is interesting…

    all that taking in lower gpa students will do is push more competition into the college courses, and in turn push out the more wobbly students.

  5. Posting for MC210:

    I remember having a couple of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in my sociology class in college and that their contributions made the course seem much more relevant. When I teach law, students sometimes relate a “driving while black” story that makes anti-discrimination law much more meaningful..

    Sure kids from difficult circumstances may take longer to graduate, struggle to get good grades and even drop out. So long as they are counseled that community college remains a live option, not making it at a competitive 4-year institution doesn’t seem that tragic.

    — MC210

  6. So poor kids should be admitted as living “show and tell” projects? What if they don’t like to used as examples or don’t care to share with the class?

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    I don’t doubt that underprepared students don’t do well at colleges. But underprepared students are often students without many financial resources: they’re “poor students” in two senses.

    It’s got to be a lot harder to succeed in college while also working a forty hour a week job. I wonder how much of the disadvantaged students’ lack of success can be explained by that. I know that many students do succeed while having to work long hours, but I also know that there’s no way I could have gotten through college if I had to work a regular job at the same time.

  8. Sooner or later the logic of diversity will kill the whole idea of elite universities.

    If an institution admits large number of “diversity” students who previously would be considered unqualified one of two things can happen. The unqualified students can drop out or the university can lower its standards to keep them. The first effect is already seen. The logic of diversity will demand that the unqualified students be kept and allowed to graduate in the same proportion as they were admitted. The only way that can happen is if the standards are lowered to the point where the students can graduate. The article notes that that effect is happening already with programs created specially for these students. Sooner or later someone will demand that the high-prestige programs, such as engineering, conform to the diversity mandate. Those programs, too, will lose their elite status as the standards are watered down.

    In a few years Berkeley and UCLA and the others will become indistinguishable from Riverside, or from Cal State Northridge for that matter.

    Maybe it’s time to rename them the Diversities of California. They will soon cease to be Universities.

  9. You miss the point Steve. The ‘elite’ universities don’t bring in the poor students (heaven forbid!), but rather they skim the cream of the minority community, admitting middle and upper class minorities who wouldn’t need any help in the first place, along with a few token poor students (pun intended) to keep the whole farce running. That is the beauty of the whole diversity con in the first place, you provide a delightful benefit for well-connected minorities (many of whome become diversity mongers themselves) without actually altering the nature of the system.

  10. If learning how the other half lives, diversity, is so important to our elites why do they send their children to private schools when they can learn this for free in the public schools?

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    If learning how the other half lives, diversity, is so important to our elites why do they send their children to private schools when they can learn this for free in the public schools?

    Not a good assumption. Suppose the Worthingtons are trying to decide where to send young Worthington W. Worthington III to high school. They could send him to public high school at Snootytown High, or off to boarding school at Snobby Prep. Snootytown High would be full of lilywhite kids from the Worthington’s affluent suburb. Snobby Prep, on the other hand, most likely would be more diverse, for precisely the same reason that elite colleges try to be diverse.

    This is not to attack public schools, private schools or diversity. I’m merely pointing out that sending young Worthington III to public school probably won’t be exposing him to black kids.

  12. Cardinal Fang,

    I am sure that is true in many places, but where I live, Northern VA most of our public high schools are very diverse. The private schools are not as integrated. I know parents who are afraid to send ther offspring to our public schools with good academic reputations. The exception is Jefferson which is a state high school for science. Its lack of diversity sometimes becomes an issue.

  13. “How do you get racial and ethnic diversity at a state’s flagship universities when so few black and Hispanic students are prepared for high-level university work? You either play games with admissions — UM may give a break to Detroit students — or you strengthen K-12 education. The latter is much, much harder.”

    I don’t think “harder” is the inhibitor, although the statement is undoubtedly true. The inhibitor is the political cost.

  14. Scott,

    The “elite” universities ought to be skimming the cream of high school students, but in California and other places, they are systematically removing their ability to identify the cream. They are removing all objective data from the admissions criteria.

    The voters tell them to stop looking at racial classifications in admissions.

    The universities respond by telling the voters they’ll stop looking at all information that objectively identifies qualified students.

    I know it sounds like a childish thing to do, to spite the voters like that, but there it is. I don’t think it’s a con so much as a childish fit, and one that will gravely harm the elite universities in the long run.