Do Colleges Discriminate Against Minorities?

From a new study out of Georgetown University:

The postsecondary system does not treat similarly qualified white and African-American or Hispanic students equally and thereby blunts individual opportunity and wastes valuable talent.

The evidence:

* More than 30 percent of African Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average (GPA) higher than 3.5 go to community colleges compared with 22 percent of whites with the same GPA.

* Among African-American and Hispanic college students who score more than 1200 out of a possible 1600 points on the SAT/ACT, 57 percent eventually get a certificate, an Associate’s degree, or a Bachelor’s degree or better; for white students the percentage rises to 77 percent.

The big question: Why the change in metrics between these two findings? In particular, why did the researchers use only GPA when comparing admissions numbers, when they clearly also had access to test scores, a factor that has a major impact on whether students are let in?

It seems likely that this decision biased the findings in favor of discrimination. See, for example, page 20 of this report from North Carolina: Black A students had an average SAT score of 941, while white A students had an average score of 1112. So, controlling for GPA does not make for an apples-to-apples comparison; the gap in admissions might be explained by test scores rather than any failure of colleges to admit minorities who are just as qualified as the whites they admit.

In fact, there's a considerable amount of evidence that college admissions are slanted in the opposite direction: Through affirmative-action policies, most selective colleges admit minority students with lower qualifications than the whites they admit. In No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, a study of several top-tier colleges, Princeton's Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford controlled for a host of variables (including both grades and scores) and found that being black or Hispanic can be worth hundreds of SAT points. (This is mentioned in a footnote in the Georgetown paper.) Various studies by the Center for Equal Opportunity, a think tank that opposes racial preferences, reveal that at any given university, black and sometimes Hispanic students tend to have lower scores than white students. Many colleges openly admit to practicing affirmative action.

Obviously, affirmative action might be right or wrong depending on your perspective, and the report highlights a staggering number of other troubling racial inequalities -- from the gaps that begin well before college, to the fact that minorities who go to college are less likely to graduate. But it's awfully difficult to claim that college admissions offices treat minorities worse than similarly qualified whites.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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