Race and/or Class Preferences in College Admissions

This summer the Supreme Court is likely to hand down a ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas II, in which a white student, Abigail Fisher, has challenged the use of race in college admissions. This is a topic that has spurred a lot of discussion, including a book by Sigal Alon titled Race, Class and Affirmative Action. Richard D. Kahlenberg reviews the book in the current edition of the Washington Monthly.

Kahlenberg explains the role of “class” in this discussion.

In states where racial preferences have been banned (usually by voter initiative), states and universities have responded by vigorously recruiting, and boosting financial aid to, less-advantaged kids.

The case Alon makes is that colleges should consider both race and class in their admissions policies in order to create the kind of diversity they rely on.

To her credit, Alon is not oblivious to the enormous economic disparities in America’s selective colleges. She notes that between 1972 and 2004, though the share of underrepresented minorities at these institutions almost doubled, the share of students from the bottom socioeconomic quartile actually declined, from 9 percent to 7 percent. Her solution is to call for universities to employ affirmative action by race and class.

Kahlenberg disagrees and points out that “universities almost never seriously pursue a dual race-plus-class strategy.” Here is his conclusion:

The good news is that if class-based affirmative action is carefully constructed, in order to acknowledge the legacy and ongoing reality of racial discrimination, it can produce both racial and socioeconomic diversity in a way that race-based programs never have.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .