The New York Times recently editorialized in response to our research showing the benefits of race-neutral collegeadmissions policies which examine the benefits of wealth and class. Our research shows clearly that colleges can maintain or increase racial diversity on campus by using race-neutral admissions policies based on class.
Below is our response to the Times editorial. You can see it in the New York Times here.
Your Nov. 19 editorial “Class-Based vs. Race-Based Admissions” responds to the Century Foundation’s report “A Better Affirmative Action,” but does not grapple with its central arguments.
The editorial flatly asserts, “It is not possible to maintain the same level of racial diversity in higher education while applying a race-blind admissions policy.” But our analysis finds that in 7 of 10 leading universities where racial preferences were dropped from admissions, the proportion of black and Hispanic students stayed the same or increased when race-neutral alternatives such as class-basedaffirmative action were used instead.
The editorial cites studies suggesting that income is a poor proxy for race, which is true. But that’s not what our proposals recommend. We advocate looking at a variety of socioeconomic factors that reflect differences, in the aggregate, among black, Latino and white poverty: consideration of wealth (which is accumulated over generations and reflects our history of slavery and segregation) and neighborhood poverty levels (which reflect discrimination in the housing market).
Finally, the editorial suggests that race and class should be simultaneously considered in admissionsbut ignores extensive evidence that, in practice, universities provide large preferences based on raceand virtually no consideration to economic disadvantage. In general, only when universities are barred from using racial preferences do they actively pursue class-based affirmative action as an indirect way of attaining racial diversity.
Properly structured economic affirmative action programs can enhance diversity far beyond current programs that merely assemble college classes that may be racially diverse but are also almost uniformly wealthy.
RICHARD D. KAHLENBERG
Washington, Nov. 21, 2012
The writers are, respectively, president and senior fellow of the Century Foundation.