All posts by Richard D. Kahlenberg


Affirmative Action for the Advantaged at UT-Austin

The University of Texas at Austin’s president, William C. Powers Jr., has been seen by many academics during his term in office as a liberal icon. He consistently stood up against interference in university affairs by the conservative Texas governor, Rick Perry, who wanted to de-emphasize research. And Powers has been a staunch champion of affirmative-action programs, defending Texas’s use of race in admissions all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at…


The Widening Income Gap in Higher Education—and What to Do About It

The good news, according to a research report out on Tuesday is that the college-going gap between students from rich and poor families has narrowed somewhat since 1970. The truly devastating news? The gap in bachelor’s completion by family income has roughly doubled in those years. What’s going on? And what can be done to remedy the problem?

The report, “Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 45 Year Trend Report,” from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Hig…


Affirmative-Action Ruling Could Be Pyrrhic Victory for UT-Austin

On Tuesday, in the latest ruling in the long-running case of Fisher v. University of Texas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the ability of the University of Texas at Austin to use race in admissions. The decision was understandably celebrated by proponents of affirmative action. But the victory in this battle may, paradoxically, tee up a major loss in the larger war.

The ruling came in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the case, a 7-to-1 opinion. In…


Good News for Low-Income Students

Opponents of affirmative action have leveled a new three-pronged attack on affirmative action in higher education that could significantly change admissions at selective universities and colleges for the better.

The Project on Fair Representation, which was behind the recent Supreme Court litigation in Fisher v. University of Texas, has launched websites soliciting white and Asian plaintiffs who believe they were discriminated against by racial-preference policies at three institutions: Harvard …


Why the White House Summit on Low-Income Students Matters

Yesterday, socioeconomic diversity on college campuses—an issue long overshadowed by the question of diversity by race—took center stage at the White House.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and the staffers Gene Sperling and James Kvaal convened an extraordinary meeting of more than 100 college presidents and 40 businesses and philanthropies to promote greater access and success for low-income students of all races.

The price of admission for participants was agreeing to make a…


The Artificially Constrained Community-College Discussion

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Seattle at a symposium of the Association of Community College Trustees on “The Journey to Completion.” The topic couldn’t be more important in a country where 81 percent of entering community-college students indicate that they would like to eventually transfer and get bachelor’s degrees, yet only 12 percent do so within six years. The sessions were lively and informative and important—focused on all the hot reforms—but I was struck as much by what w…


The Misleading Administration Guidance on Affirmative Action

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released a letter to college and university presidents on Friday about the legality of affirmative action. It suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2013 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas simply reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger—a reading at odds with those of many higher-education lawyers.

In Grutter, the court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race in admissions and gave universiti…


How to Fight Growing Economic and Racial Segregation in Higher Ed

In a new report, “Separate and Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege,” Anthony Carnevale and Jeff Strohl of Georgetown University vividly document how higher education is becoming increasingly stratified by both race and class. More minority students are going to college than ever before, they find, but those students are being channeled increasingly into open-access institutions, while white students increasingly head off to select…


What Colleges Can Learn From K-12 Education

Our higher-education system is often thought of as a model for elementary and secondary education because top American universities rank among the very best in the world. But maybe it’s the reverse that is true. After all, only about half of first-time college students earn certificates or degrees within six years, a completion rate much lower than among high-school students. At community colleges, while 81 percent of first-time entering students say they would like to earn bachelor’s degrees,…


The Untapped Pool of Low-Income Strivers

The lead article in Sunday’s New York Times featured important research that could help shape the future of equity debates and affirmative action in higher education.

The article, “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Poorer Strivers,” by David Leonhardt, cites a significant study conducted by Stanford University’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard University’s Christopher Avery, which finds that while more than three-quarters of wealthy high-achieving students attend selective four-year colleges, only …