Class-Based vs. Race-Based Admissions

By | November 19, 2012

Admissions policies that take class into account, rather than race, are getting a renewed push as a win-win solution. The contention is that they more fully serve the goal of diversity in higher education and provide a progressive way to resolve an enduring conflict that has now returned to the Supreme Court in a case about race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.

But a crucial premise of the class-over-race argument is wrong. It is not possible to maintain the same level of racial diversity in higher education while applying a race-blind admissions policy. Class-based admissions generally reduce the number of black and Hispanic students. To maintain or build the levels of racial diversity on selective campuses, it is necessary to maintain race-conscious admissions.

While there are higher shares of blacks and Hispanics among low-income Americans, their smaller shares of the whole population mean that whites make up by far the largest portion of low-income families. As Alan Krueger, now head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and his co-authors wrote in 2006, “The correlation between race and family income, while strong, is not strong enough to permit the latter to function as a useful proxy for race in the pursuit of diversity.” (New York Times)

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