New Study: Race-Based College Policies Increase 'Academic Mismatch'

P. Gardner Goldsmith | February 8, 2021
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Many leftists will not like a new study that reiterates what many pro-freedom scholars and commentators – particularly Hoover Institution economist, philosopher, and sociologist Thomas Sowell and the recently-deceased George Mason University economist, professor, and columnist Walter E Williams – for decades have stressed: race-based college preferences are not only racist in nature, but also (regardless of whom they are trying to “help”) damage campus harmony, increase “grade shock”, and increase “academic mismatch”, leading to higher incidences of drop-out and a secondary feeling among some that they were the victims of racism while at school.

The College Fix’s Isaac Willour offers the news:

Campus Diversity and Student Discontent: The Costs of Race and Ethnic Preferences in College Admissions” was written by researcher Althea Nagai, who also wrote a 2018 CEO (Center for Equal Opportunity) report on Asian Americans and affirmative action in admissions.

And two of the most prominent findings:

Campus diversity initiatives are not only correlated with ‘greater alienation’ by black students, but also with ‘a general sense of campus discontent among non-minority students and faculty,’ it says.

Willour adds that a spokesperson for CEO observed the good timing of this work:

The study and its findings are particularly timely due to the Supreme Court considering whether to review Harvard’s ‘holistic admissions’ system, which allegedly discriminates against Asian Americans and whites, a spokesperson for CEO told The College Fix.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Harvard’s system last fall, finding that the uniformly lower ‘personal ratings’ for Asian American applicants were not evidence of discrimination.

Private colleges should be free to engage in whatever sets of preferences their administrators desire, and customers should be free to attend or turn away if they find such focus on race (or any other factor) offensive. But most administrators either are unaware of, or don’t care sufficiently about, the academic and psychological effects of their racially-biased policies. And, usually, these institutions receive taxpayer money, so people who are offended by race-based policies cannot exercise their own will to stop subsidizing perpetual racism.

Willour reports on the thoroughness of the CEO study, revealing shocking information:

The CEO study uses logistic regression analyses to determine the amount of racial preference given to underrepresented minority applicants, generally referring to blacks and Hispanics.

At the University of Virginia, University of Oklahoma, College of William and Mary, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, Miami University of Ohio and Ohio State – all public institutions – black applicants had ‘large’ admissions preferences over whites.

For example, the ‘odds ratio’ for black and white applicants was nearly 7 to 1 at UVA and nearly 20 to 1 at William and Mary, also in Virginia.

And, as Willour notes, it appears as if the most repressed people in the race-based college equation are high-achieving people of Asian descent.

And on campus, those policies have a profoundly negative effect on students.

The New American’s Selwyn Duke offers excellent analysis, noting:

(D)iversity efforts don’t help ‘URMs’ (under-represented minorities) (blacks and Hispanics), either. As the CEO study warns, ‘Racial preference in admissions creates race consciousness and mismatch,’ the latter being when students are thrust into academic environments too difficult for them. Furthermore, the report writes:

  • Admissions committees keep the degree of mismatch secret.
  • Mismatched students disproportionately drop out of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics], change to non-STEM majors, transfer to other schools, and take longer to graduate.
  • The academic disparities from mismatch continue throughout college.

And Duke adds more, distilled from the study, noting that the psychological effects of this kind of “propping-up” and displacement of merit can be disastrous:

  • Black students experienced greater first-year “grade shock,” greater discounting of academic feedback, greater alienation, less attachment to the university, and greater dissatisfaction with their overall college experience.
  • Pre-college academic factors were strong predictors of these psychological setbacks.
  • Many URMs would have gone somewhere else had they known where they ranked.

Which are precisely the kinds of effects Thomas Sowell has discussed at length. From his book, “Preferential Policies,” to numerous insightful articles and interviews, Sowell has sounded the alarm about race-based college schemes for years. For example, in 2015, Dr. Sowell wrote:

Despite much media spin, the issue is not whether blacks in general should be admitted to higher-ranked or lower-ranked institutions. The issue is whether a given black student, with given academic qualifications, should be admitted to a college or university where he would not be admitted if he or she were white.

And because Dr. Sowell is so conversant on the topic, and has shown such care, it’s worth revealing more, from his 2015 piece:

I became painfully aware of this problem more than 40 years ago, when I was teaching at Cornell University, and discovered that half the black students there were on some form of academic probation.

These students were not stupid or uneducable. On the contrary, the average black student at Cornell at that time scored at the 75th percentile on scholastic tests. Their academic qualifications were better than those of three-quarters of all American students who took those tests.

Surely, some leftist folks might accuse the teachers or administrators of being racially biased or insensitive… But Sowell explains the real dynamic at work:

Why were they in trouble at Cornell, then? Because the average Cornell student in the liberal arts college at that time scored at the 99th percentile. The classes taught there — including mine — moved at a speed geared to the verbal and mathematical level of the top 1 percent of American students.

So, the question is not whether X, Y, or Z “group”, as defined by the “caring” left-progressives should try to go to college. It’s whether the college or course of study is the right fit.

As Sowell explains:

Mismatching students with educational institutions is a formula for needless failures. The book ‘Mismatch,’ by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, is a first-rate study of the hard facts. It shows, for example, that the academic performances of black and Latino students rose substantially after affirmative action admissions policies were banned in the University of California system.

Instead of failing at Berkeley or UCLA, these minority students were now graduating from other campuses in the UC system. They were graduating at a higher rate, with higher grades, and now more often in challenging fields like math, science and technology.

And, finally, Duke makes two excellent observations:

But the deception starts early and runs deep. The late Professor Walter E. Williams, a black academic, had written much about the “academic mismatch” phenomenon. Among other things, he pointed out that black students (and others) are too often socially promoted in primary and secondary education — that is, they’re allowed to ascend to higher grades despite not having mastered course work — and thus have fraudulent high school diplomas.

And he adds:

Moreover, Professor Williams had pointed out that the deceived black students are then more likely to attribute their college failures to racism. What else could explain why they, despite having high school diplomas like other students, aren’t getting the same grades?

And, finally, this important point, also from Selwyn Duke of The New American:

What’s 'enough black students' (or anyone else)? Does the NFL have 'enough' women? Does the NBA, which is 74.2 percent black, have 'enough' white and Asian-descent players (the latter of whom are 0.4 percent of the league)? Does nursing have 'enough' men?

And why racial criteria? What about religion? What about musical taste? What about accent or height?

In a politically-connected, tax-subsidized academic world that cannot see its own immoral and unsustainable arbitrary and racist policies for what they are, it’s unlikely we’ll see much change for a long time. But that gives us incentives to find new academic avenues and learning paradigms, and to keep spreading the information that people like Williams, Sowell, and the team at the Center for Equal Opportunity have provided.