Yes, Race Still Matters

Inside Higher Ed sums up some of the key findings in No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life, a new book on (as the title would suggest) how race and class impact the college experience, from start to finish:

* Significant advantages and disadvantages exist for members of some racial and ethnic groups with regard to the SAT or ACT scores they need to have the same odds of admission as members of other groups. While advantages and disadvantages were also found based on economic class, these were far less significant than those based on race and ethnicity.

* Just about every existing idea for reforming college admissions would not, by itself, preserve current levels of racial and ethnic diversity — if current affirmative action policies were eliminated or scaled back.

* Most undergraduates at the institutions studied do have significant interactions with members of different races and ethnicities, and these interactions result in learning about the experiences of different groups. At the same time, the data suggest significant gaps in the kinds of meaningful cross-race interactions that take place with some groups much more likely than others to have such interactions. (By far, the most common interactions are white-Latino, while the least common are black-white).

* On measures of academic performance, graduation rates across racial and ethnic groups show only modest gaps at the institutions studied. But analysis of class rank suggests major gaps in academic performance. More than half of black students and nearly one-third of Latino students who graduated from the colleges studied, for example, finished in the bottom quintile of their classes.

I found the point about interacting with different groups to be the most interesting. I spent my last two years of college in Ann Arbor, and the University of Michigan. One of the interesting things about the campus was how many different sorts of people aspired to be there, since the school served two very different roles for two very different sets of people: it was both the flagship campus in the UM system, which made it desirable for Michiganers of just about every income level, and one of the few public universities deemed “acceptable” by the vast majority of upper- or upper-middle-class white families with high-achieving children (in light of the endless series of pathologies that plague upper- and upper-middle-class white families mired in the college admissions process).

The result was a weird, interesting hodgepodge, and because of that, yes, you did interact with people different from you, but it was rare, because of the inevitable self-segregation that occurs in such heterogeneous social environments, to have “meaningful cross-race interactions.”

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.