Jewish Journal


June 23, 2013

Hyperbole and reality



The US Supreme Court

Last month, this blog wrote about the impending United States Supreme Court decision in the case of Fisher v the University of Texas. The case revolves around the issue of  race based university admissions policies. When the decision comes down next week there will be analyses and "punditry" on cable news and elsewhere that will seem endless and the certitude of the analysts' predictions irritating.

One guarantee is that if the court rules in favor of Abigail FIsher and against the university's affirmative action program there will be forecasts of whites only state  universities and colleges. The assumption being that if minority students aren't given the extra boost from racial/ethnic preferences, they won't otherwise qualify for admission.

It may be worthwhile revisiting our recent blog and the articles to which it links. They offer proof positive that serious outreach efforts (as conducted by the University of California) and socio-economically based affirmative action can result in minority student admissions that exceed what exists when preferences are in place.

Our blog cited a  New York Times’ lead story that focused on alternatives to race and ethnicity based affirmative action in public higher education.

The Times' article pointed out how socio-economically based affirmative action can offer a leg up to talented, but disadvantaged, students if the universities are determined to make it happen. Their stellar example is the effort of the University of California which virtually leads the nation in admitting Pell Grant eligible students (the main form of federal aid for low income and moderate income students) to their ranks. UCLA and Berkeley are (at 36% and 34% respectively) the national leaders among research universities.  Parenthetically, Community Advocates praised the efforts of the UC’s (for which they had hitherto received little credit) in an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times nearly three years ago.

What may put off some folks is that the numbers at the UC don’t come easily; it’s not a function of waving a magic wand and declaring students qualified or lowering standards of admission. It is, as The New York Times pointed out a few weeks earlier, a result of massive outreach by the University to underprivileged schools and their students over years and years. As President Yudof of the UC observed, “We’ve worked very hard to widen the pipeline, and there is still an enormous need to do more.” 

As the Times explained, they “have embedded themselves deeply in disadvantaged communities, working with schools, students and parents to identify promising teenagers and get more of them into college.”    UC Irvine alone spends upwards of $7 million annually on outreach. The UC system spent as much as $85 million on such programs after race based affirmative action was banned in California in 1996.

The programs, as the Times made clear, have paid off and the UC’s should be proud. Students who attend public schools where there is, on average, one counselor per 1,000 students, now have a chance competing against kids from private schools where the college admissions process is seamless.

Whether one believes in race based affirmative action or not, there is little doubt that the template that the UC offers--- of providing opportunities for those who are disadvantaged, independent of race or ethnicity, is a way forward that is worth pursuing no matter how the Supreme Court rules over the next month.

Keep the University of California model in mind when the talking heads start up next week. No matter how the Supreme Court rules, there is a way forward. It may be difficult and slow to fruition, but it works.

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