Law & Courts

Colleges

March 07, 2001 2 min read

Admissions and Race: Colleges and universities use racial preferences in admissions far more extensively than previously acknowledged, a report contends, and the practice contributes to achievement gaps.

“Pervasive Preferences: Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Undergraduate Admissions Across the Nation” examines admissions data—including SAT scores and students’ high school grades—at 47 institutions. It was released Feb. 22 by the Center for Equal Opportunity, a Washington-based organization that opposes affirmative action.

The schools in the report, including the University of California, Berkley, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, were selected to represent a cross section of four-year institutions.

The report’s authors, Robert Lerner and Althea K. Nagai, consultants from Chevy Chase, Md., used statistical analysis to predict the probability of gaining admission to each school for various racial and ethnic groups. Some institutions and researchers challenged a similar report released by the center several years ago because it used the same, highly controversial statistical method.

Selective schools, according to the report, take race, and to a lesser extent, ethnicity, into greater account than do lower-tier schools. The study shows that the relative odds favoring black over white students were 177-to-1 at North Carolina State University, for example, and 111-to-1 at the University of Virginia.

Three-fourths of the schools studied gave a substantial preference to African-American students, the study found. About two-fifths gave similar preferences to Hispanic students, the report says.

Three schools—the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—had odds that moderately favored whites over Hispanics. Ten schools favored Hispanics over whites, and another 10 schools did not give a statistically significant preference to Hispanics.

“By their very nature, racial-preference policies lead to individuals from the ‘right’ racial and ethnic groups with weaker academic qualifications being selected for admissions,” the report argues.

“In effect, then, as colleges and universities deliberately employ preferential policies to increase the number of black and Hispanic [students],” it adds, “they are widening the black-white test-score gap among students at their own institutions.”

—John Gehring

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2001 edition of Education Week

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