Affirmative Action Aftereffects


Here in California, affirmative action - using race as a factor in college admissions - has been banned since 1996. Now, the Supreme Court has banned AA nationwide. 

Proponents of affirmative action might argue that it's a way for colleges to create classes more similar to the demographics of their state, or of the country, in terms of race. If AA is banned, they might claim that colleges will have a harder time creating classes that represent races in those proportions - a blow to diversity and equity.

Of course, opponents of AA might argue that it was a way for colleges to do the above at the expense of merit; by using race as a criteria, colleges could more easily limit the numbers of, for instance, Asians in their classes (despite their on average higher test scores and GPA) to create their desired proportions. No more AA, they might say, is a victory for the premise of meritocracy and makes it harder to limit students who have demonstrated academic merit.

Whichever side you learn toward, I think it's important to point out a couple of things regarding how SAT and ACT scores factor into what colleges will probably do now.

If colleges can't consider race, then the more subjective and opaque the admissions process becomes, the better. Test scores are hard data. If applicants from a desired (from an admissions standpoint) race apply without scores, then scores can't factor against them in admissions decisions.

For example, a kid with a 1050 SAT in the past who needed to submit that score now might look much better without it. It's now more difficult to prove that kid was admitted because of his race.

Colleges benefit in other ways from test-optional policies: average and lower scorers on the SAT and ACT now usually don't submit scores, which drives up the average scores of the school, making it look more selective in the all-important US News rankings. In the past, when scores were required, high average scores dissuaded some kids from applying; test-optional encourages many applicants to apply who would've been afraid to in the past. The number of applications rises, which again makes the school look more selective. 

Finally, test-optional gives colleges more leeway to admit another highly coveted demographic: rich kids. No more pesky low SAT score to reveal that that 4.0 GPA was more a product of grade inflation than competence! Colleges have a financial incentive to lower any barrier to accept more wealthy applicants who will be paying most or all of their tuition.

The Bottom Line

I think the ban of affirmative action gives colleges an additional incentive to keep test-optional policies in place to give admissions departments more ways to get away with the use of race as a factor in admissions. And when colleges claim test-optional is all about diversity, equity, and inclusion, you might take that with a grain of salt.

What do you think?

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