Commentary Cherry-Picked ACE data

To the Editor:

Richard Kahlenberg’s recent commentary, “How a New Report May Hasten the End of Racial Preferences in Admissions,” (The Chronicle, July 23) is an incomplete portrayal of the American Council on Education report “Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape.” His cherry-picking of data is misleading at best, and it undermines the larger picture that policy makers and the courts require to make informed decisions.

Our data do not support his assertion that colleges “didn’t take the [Fisher] ruling very seriously.” According to our data, 89 percent of admissions leaders reported that they were either familiar or very familiar with the requirements of Fisher. As noted in the ACE report, a 2013 survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed found that 92 percent of responding institutions assessed their admissions processes as meeting the narrow-tailoring requirements of Fisher and thus had no reason to alter their selection approaches.

Next, the ACE study found that institutions did in fact make changes post-Fisher, both to their analysis of data and to their diversity strategies. Nearly a third increased enrollment-data analysis of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and a quarter increased analysis of first-generation college students. Nearly a quarter of institutions also increased recruitment of and additional consideration for community-college transfers as part of their portfolio of diversity strategies. Sixty-nine percent of more-selective privates seek additional research on areas such as how to assess the diversity effects of race-neutral approaches and 82 percent of more-selective publics seek research on critical mass.

Kahlenberg’s limited and selective focus on certain points in our report further skews the reality among our respondents. Our data reinforce what any admissions officer will tell you but what Kahlenberg did not: The admissions process extends far beyond the admissions decision. This is a central thesis of our study, which shows targeted outreach and recruitment activities, as well as targeted financial aid, as paramount to supporting racial and ethnic diversity.

This is precisely where the argument that race-neutral strategies alone are sufficient breaks down. Kahlenberg’s commentary glosses over a key finding of our research, which is that race-conscious and race-neutral diversity strategies are at their best when used in combination. According to our data, institutions that consider race in admissions decisions (including 60 percent of the most selective) use other race-conscious and race-neutral diversity strategies more often and find them more effective than institutions that use race-neutral strategies alone.

This approach is consistent with empirical research to date on percentage plans. Percentage plans are at their best when used in combination with a broad array of diversity strategies, the consideration of race included.

The answer to Kahlenberg’s larger — and indeed valid — question of how diversity strategies are pursued across the broad, varied, and context-specific spectrum of higher education is best found through additional, qualitative research. And, as to particular institutional practices, by facts — not by conjecture.

Lorelle L. Espinosa
Assistant Vice President for Policy Research and Strategy
American Council on Education

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