College admissions: It’s not about race or class

In a The New York Times’ op-ed, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Sherrilyn Ifill argues that class should not replace race as the primary affirmative action criteria for college admissions.  Like many in the progressive camp, Ms. Ifill ignores economics and capital as the basis for any public policy making.  When it comes to colleges or the work place, the question should be how does a diversity policy impact the bottom line; the mission of a school or the work place.

A university’s bottom line, in my opinion, is to provide society with the brain power that can drive economic innovation and contribute ideas for a growing and stable social fabric.  Sure it would be ideal for this brain power to come from people that represent all ethnic groups, but I don’t think that class or race should be factors that an admissions officer or panel should use for predicting whether a student they are considering can make this type of contribution or has the potential to be molded into one that can.  The race or class criteria are really cop outs that make the admissions panel’s job a little easier because they wouldn’t have to get into any deeper thought.

Instead, admissions panels should be looking at a high school students application for indication that the student has been giving thought to social and public policy issues and has demonstrated their pursuit of alternatives for addressing these issues.

I’m not talking about seeking out students that participate in five different sports, play two instruments, and serve as altar boys.  Again, that’s too easy and quite frankly simply tells me that they have physical stamina versus deep economic thought.

No, we need to pursue the creative types, no matter what color or wealth background.  We need to nurture outside the box thinking from the time kids are in nursery school and identify and bring those kids into our primary think tanks: the universities.

Ms. Ifill is partially right.  It shouldn’t be about a student’s class.  It also shouldn’t be about a student’s race.  Plenty of dumb asses can be found among wealthy kids, and skin color doesn’t make you Jesus or Satan.  What we need are students that can take us to the brink of new technological and social frontiers.  We need thinkers and doers.

About Alton Drew

Alton Drew brings a straight forward and insightful brand of political market intelligence. Alton Drew graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can also follow Alton Drew on Twitter @altondrew.
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One Response to College admissions: It’s not about race or class

  1. Ken Ciszewski says:

    Alton: what you say makes a lot of sense.

    “A university’s bottom line, in my opinion, is to provide society with the brain power that can drive economic innovation and contribute ideas for a growing and stable social fabric.”

    I don’t think, however, that most universities follow your line of thinking as their mission. I suspect they are essentially “education mills/diploma mills” that provide education for a fee. Except for the fact that they take pride in whatever accomplishments their alumni perform (because it makes them look good, and becomes advertising to attract future students), I don’t see them believing that they have a larger role in society.

    Washington University, in St. Louis Missouri (my alma mater), is a well-respected institution of learning and has a fine reputation. There also Washington University (McDonnell) Medical School attached to BJC Health Center in St. Louis, Missouri. I have heard that the Medical School is the real “darling” of the Board of Trustees of the University. In fact, the Medical School has done a lot of good for patients and a lot of medical research. (I once met a gentleman who was the grant writer for the Medical School on an airplane flight several years ago.)

    I don’t know how Wash U. selects undergraduate students for admission. I was a National Merit Semi-Finalist, which got me scholarship offers, so I went there. My son applied (he ranked very high in his high school class), but didn’t get in. One of his classmates, a very bright young woman of mixed race background, who publicly stated she want to become a medical doctor, did get in.

    I don’t know if race and class had anything to do with that, but I suspect wanting to become a doctor did. I would guess the other two factors also played a part.

    Now, I am OK with how all this went down. My son went to the local state university and got training in Electrical Engineering on the Wash U. campus anyway through a joint program between the two universities. He did very well, and is now a software engineer for a major company. One of his professors at Wash U. heard that he had not been accepted initially by Wash U, asked him about it, and then, when he explained what happened, replied that she didn’t understand.

    If my son had not gotten that education, he would have gotten a good education somewhere else. The education he got through the state university was quite a bit less expensive than if he had been accepted at Wash U, so we laughed all the way to the bank, so to speak. His state college scholarships covered all the costs. I’m not sure Wash U. would have offered enough to cover its costs, and that would have been an issue.

    I think universities have their own biases and agendas, but contributing to the overall development/enhancement of society is not part of those.

    “What we need are students that can take us to the brink of new technological and social frontiers. We need thinkers and doers.”

    Yes we do, but we don’t have good strategy as a society as a whole to get optimal results. We need a form of economic nationalism that promotes and coordinates education and training to help people achieve more. We just assume people should make their own choices and that everything will work out OK overall. We give very little occupational or vocational guidance. It’s a wonder we are doing halfway well at all.

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