Mike Kueber's Blog

March 17, 2013

Should affirmative action be for minority kids or disadvantaged kids

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Law/justice,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:32 am

Although I am a long-time opponent of affirmative action for kids based on race, I am just as committed in favor of affirmative action for disadvantaged children.  My position is based on a smattering of statistical information, and a heavy dose of judgment/common sense.  But a recent Harvard study, as reported in an article in today’s NY Times, goes a long way toward supplying me with a solid statistical foundation for my position.     

The article contains the following fascinating information:

  • “Only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors in the bottom fourth of income distribution attended any one of the country’s 238 most selective colleges, according the analysis. Among top students in the highest income quartile, that figure was 78 percent.  The findings underscore that elite public and private colleges, despite a stated desire to recruit an economically diverse group of students, have largely failed to do so.”  This is the essential finding of the study.
  • “Top low-income students in the nation’s 15 largest metropolitan areas do often apply to selective colleges, according to the study, which was based on test scores, self-reported data, and census and other data for the high school class of 2008. But such students from smaller metropolitan areas — like Bridgeport; Memphis; Sacramento; Toledo, Ohio; and Tulsa, Okla. — and rural areas typically do not.”  As someone who grew up in a rural area, I am not surprised that rural kids have lower ambitions.
  • “Among high-achieving, low-income students, 6 percent were black, 8 percent Latino, 15 percent Asian-American and 69 percent white, the study found.”  This confirms my feeling that race-neutral affirmative action would affect a lot more whites than minorities.  It would be interesting to know what percentage of each of these cohorts went to selective universities, and then compare those percentages to the overall 34%.
  • “If there are changes to how we define diversity,” said Greg W. Roberts, the dean of admission at the University of Virginia, referring to the court case, “then I expect schools will really work hard at identifying low-income students.”  This sentiment is encouraging, in the event the Supreme Court puts an end to race-based affirmative action.
  • “The researchers defined high-achieving students as those very likely to gain admission to a selective college, which translated into roughly the top 4 percent nationwide. Students needed to have at least an A-minus average and a score in the top 10 percent among students who took the SAT or the ACT.”   This definition of “high-achieving” seems well conceived. 
  • Of these high achievers, 34 percent came from families in the top fourth of earners, 27 percent from the second fourth, 22 percent from the third fourth and 17 percent from the bottom fourth. (The researchers based the income cutoffs on the population of families with a high school senior living at home, with $41,472 being the dividing line for the bottom quartile and $120,776 for the top.)”  Although there is some relationship between family income and high-achieving kids, I am surprised that the lower quartiles did as good as they did.
  • “If they make it to top colleges, high-achieving, low-income students tend to thrive there, the paper found. Based on the most recent data, 89 percent of such students at selective colleges had graduated or were on pace to do so, compared with only 50 percent of top low-income students at nonselective colleges.”  These numbers are astounding.  I would have thought high-achieving low-income students would have graduated at a higher rate at nonselective schools because they would likely be closer to home.  But it appears that these kids are better off being away from their home environment.

According to an admissions dean, the study is highly credible – “It’s pretty close to unimpeachable — they’re drawing on a national sample.”  This is the kind of stuff that will inform my thinking for years to come.



  1. […] couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the Harvard study that concluded it was rare when high-achieving, low-income kids crossed […]

    Pingback by More about high-achieving, low-income kids | Mike Kueber's Blog — March 29, 2013 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

  2. […] article titled, “Learning how to go to college.”  The article touched on a subject that I have blogged about recently – i.e., the failure of high-achieving, low-income kids to leave home for the best […]

    Pingback by High-achieving, low-income kids in San Antonio | Mike Kueber's Blog — April 2, 2013 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  3. […] I’ve previously blogged, some colleges are beginning to look for something to replace their apparently doomed […]

    Pingback by More good news on socio-economic mobility | Mike Kueber's Blog — May 9, 2013 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

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