Outreach Will Only Get You So Far

The conceit of many selective college admissions officers (and others trying to encourage more campus diversity) is that there is no need to compromise on academic standards in order to get more black and Hispanic students on campus. But a new study suggests that there are not a lot of qualified minority candidates who are simply unaware of their educational options or who simply need a little outreach to push them into a selective school. According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association by Ann L. Mullen, associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto; Kimberly A. Goyette, associate professor of sociology at Temple University; and Katie Stuart, a doctoral student at Toronto, qualified minority students are actually more likely to apply to selective schools and enroll in them than white students are.

According to an article in InsideHigher Ed:

When academic background is controlled for, the authors found that while Asians are more likely to apply to and enroll at selective colleges than are all other groups, black and Latino applicants are slightly more likely to apply to and enroll in selective colleges than are white students.

The article goes on to say that

Many elite colleges face considerable pressure to expand their outreach efforts to attract more minority students, or to consider changes in admissions policies. But Goyette said that the data in the new study show that those efforts — while laudable — may not have a huge impact, given that the central issue appears to be the relatively small number of black and Latino applicants with academic backgrounds comparable to white students. “The most effective way” for top colleges to enroll more black and Latino students, [Goyette] said, is to improve high schools that serve black and Latino students.

That’s where the hard work needs to be done. The idea that expanding opportunities for minority students was going to simply be a matter of sending more admissions officers to the South Bronx was a pipe dream. The reason that these students do not go to selective colleges in larger numbers is not simply an issue of awareness or money (God knows, if an admissions officer found a student in Brownsville capable of doing the work at Middlebury or Wesleyan or Yale, that student would be handed a full scholarship immediately.) Our black-white achievement gap in this country is still shamefully high.

But if you want to know who is doing the hard work to change this, it is not college admissions officers or deans or presidents. It is people like the teachers and administrators in New Orleans, where the news this week is a sign of genuine progress:

The gap between white and black students scoring basic and above dropped from 56 percentage points in 2007 to 42 percentage points this year. To be sure, city-wide proficiency rates in math and English don’t amount to a complete picture of school quality or reveal what could be wide disparities between one campus and another.

There is still much work to be done, but college affirmative action programs are not the key.

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