Affirmative Action based on Economic Imbalance

I look back with horror at the prevalence of slavery in the history of America. Someone once asked me to conjecture as to what Americans may look back at with horror a hundred years from now. My answer was and still is the disparity in wealth and well-being between the rich and the poor.

This conjecture is my starting point for reflecting on the current heated debate regarding affirmative action relative to college admissions.

As pointed out in the November 11 issue of The Week, what appears to be an agreed upon goal isto create more “diversity” in colleges, based on “the evidence” suggesting that “every student, regardless of race, benefits from a ‘diverse environment’.”

But the looming question then emerges as to what is the best “means” to work toward the accomplishment of that worthy “end.” In recent lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, it is alleged that “both universities’ consideration of race in deciding which applicants to admit constitutes racial discrimination and is therefore unconstitutional.” This leads me to ask whether there is another way to create more diversity (racial and otherwise) at colleges that does not start with a consideration of race. As the article in The Week points out, “a good alternative exists” that has been proposed by Richard Kahlenbergin the Atlantic (and others) that starts with “zeroing in on economically disadvantaged students.” Such zeroing in would involve ascertaining the economic status of each applicant and creating a balance between students coming from low-income households and those coming from more affluent households.

I embrace this alternative for two reasons, the first of which is that it will take a step toward ameliorating the present horror of the disparity between the rich and the poor, at least when it comes to opportunities for a college education.

Another reason flows from a consequence that has emerged when college admissions is based on race; the admission of a cohort of relatively wealthy students of color that could displace relatively poor students of color, or relatively poor white students, who aspire to a college education.

Do some colleges intend this consequence? It appears to me that some do. As suggested in the article in The Week, “Colleges resist this solution [Alternative] only because lower income students would require more financial assistance, unlike the ‘upper middle-class students of color’ they disproportionally admit today.”

So, I post this Musing to encourage my readers to become advocates for colleges refining their admissions policies in ways that will ameliorate the current disparity in college educational opportunities for the rich and the poor.

Of course, debating affirmative action and refining college admissions policies does not dig deep enough in that it doesn’t address or ameliorate the root problem caused by the inordinate cost of attending college; a possibly future topic for another Musing

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