Race vs SES-based Affirmative Action: Part 2

Should affirmative action at highly selective universities be based more on race or socioeconomic status?
The existing affirmative action system in place at many colleges and universities across the United States is well-known to be based on race. Originally designed in hopes of making amends for decades of racial injustices, affirmative action was enacted in 1961 to encourage corporations to hire more minority employees. Colleges wanted to be considered progressive and thus incorporated affirmative action into their admissions to help restore racial justice. However, today, their objective in utilizing affirmative action is to prioritize admitting students from diverse backgrounds so the students can share their perspectives and learn from others’ thinking (Shafer, 2018). The affirmative action system at highly selective colleges should continue to be based on race, because giving preferences to minority students will both create ethnic diversity on campus and aid those who have historically been discriminated against.

                                                               Image result for uc berkeley

Research by Saul Geiser, a research associate at UC Berkeley who has directly contributed to designing the University of California’s admissions process, shows that race was a stronger predictor of SAT scores among Californian UC applicants than socioeconomic status (SES) or parental education (Geiser, 2015). Another source corroborates this finding. At every parental income level, the authors find, whites score significantly higher than blacks on the SAT. For example, the median scores for those with family incomes less than $10,000 is 488 (reading) and 505 (math) for whites versus 398 and 395 for blacks. Since there are also 3.5 million white 18 to 24-year-olds under the poverty line and 1.5 million poor blacks of the same age, a system incorporating test scores and SES, but not race, would give many of the spots at elite universities currently being occupied by minority students to white ones (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 2007). Therefore, if the purpose of affirmative action is to foster diversity, it would be logical for colleges to prioritize admitting minority students.


An additional study conducted by Alice Xiang and Donald Rubin, both education researchers from Ivy League schools, proposes that SES-based affirmative action would require sacrificing racial diversity. In their paper, they argue that SES is not a proxy for race, and minority students will be at a disadvantage in SES-based affirmative action because they tend to score lower on standardized tests than whites and Asian-Americans of similar income levels (Xiang, Rubin, 2015). At highly selective law schools in the United States, a simulated implementation of the authors’ simulated SES system significantly decreased the proportion of black students. While this research was conducted only at law schools and thus cannot necessarily be extrapolated to undergraduate admissions, it does suggest that race and SES are not directly related, meaning that the demographics of colleges would be altered under a different affirmative action system. Therefore, in order to maintain racial diversity on highly selective universities’ campuses, the affirmative action system should stay the way that it is.

Works Cited

Geiser, Saul. THE GROWING CORRELATION BETWEEN RACE AND SAT SCORES: New Findings from California by Saul Geiser. UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, 1 Oct. 2015, cshe.berkeley.edu/publications/growing-correlation-between-race-and-sat-scores-new-findings-california-saul-geiser. Accessed 12 Sept. 2019.

"Income-Based Affirmative Action Will Do Almost Nothing to Produce Greater Racial Diversity in Public Schools or in Colleges and Universities." The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, no. 56, Summer 2007, p. 20. JSTOR, www-jstor-org.ez.pausd.org/stable/25073696. Accessed 15 Sept. 2019.

Shafer, Leah. "The Case for Affirmative Action." Harvard Graduate School of Education, 11 July 2018, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/07/case-affirmative-action. Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.

Strauss, Valerie. "Actually, we still need affirmative action for African Americans in college admissions. Here's why." The Washington Post, 2 Aug. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/02/actually-we-still-need-affirmative-action-for-african-americans-in-college-admissions-heres-why/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2019.

Xiang, Alice, and Donald B. Rubin. "Assessing the Potential Impact of a Nationwide Class-Based Affirmative Action System." Statistical Science, vol. 30, no. 3, Aug. 2015, pp. 297-327. JSTOR, www-jstor-org.ez.pausd.org/stable/24780657. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019.


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