What people say about Color and Money-

"Anyone interested in the inequities of the selective college admissions process will find Color and Money clear-eyed, hard-hitting, enlightening, and informative."--Rachel Toor, author of Admissions Confidential: An Insider's Account of the Elite College Selection Process.
"For those concerned about why the march toward social justice in America has faltered badly for nearly forty years, Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a highly instructive--and greatly disturbing--guidepost." --Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality.
"An indispensible guide to the debate over affirmative action in the United States."--Michael Lind, author of The Next American Nation.
"This book is a must read for anyone concerned with access to higher education, especially to the nation’s elite universities, as well as with larger questions of social policy and social justice."--Terry MacTaggart, Former Chancellor, University of Maine System
"Books on the highly-charged issue of affirmative action are usually one-sided and inflammatory. Peter Schmidt's Color and Money is a wonderful exception. It provides an honest and fair examination that is also passionate and illuminating."--Richard D. Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation, and author of The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action

Peter Schmidt is available as a speaker

Peter Schmidt is available to speak at colleges, bookstores, schools, churches, and at gatherings of education associations. His past speaking engagements are listed at the bottom of this Web site. If interested in having him appear, e-mail him at schmidt_peter@msn.com. He also is available as an expert source for journalists covering affirmative action. Those on a tight deadline should email him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.

Hear interviews with Peter Schmidt

Jack Lessenberry of Michigan Public Radio talked to Peter Schmidt about Color and Money in August. You can hear the interview here. Reading the book inspired Jack to write an essay on it, which you can read here. You also can hear Peter Schmidt talk about his book on the NPR program Justice Talking and in a Chronicle of Higher Education podcast.

Color and Money Is a College Course!

Many college professors are now using Color and Money in their classes, but Jack Dougherty, the director of the educational studies program at Trinity College in Connecticut, has gone a big step beyond. He has decided to name a freshman seminar "Color and Money" and to structure the class around the book. He has graciously agreed to share his syllabus, available here, for faculty members at other colleges who may have the same idea.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Critics of affirmative action seek to make it a key issue in the immigration debate

Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Higher Education's news blog, which is available to nonsubscribers. A statement from a group that opposes the campaign discussed below is available here.

June 7, 2007

Affirmative Action's Foes Call for Ban on Preferences in Immigration Bill

Critics of affirmative action plan to publish an open letter tomorrow calling for any immigration bill passed by Congress to contain language barring newly naturalized citizens from receiving preferences based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or color.

The open letter, scheduled for publication in The Washington Times, argues that “immigration and race preferences cannot be considered in isolation,” and that it is unfair that “the majority of immigrants coming to America will automatically be eligible for race preferences and privileges not provided to the great majority of Americans.”

The letter bears the signatures of 26 local and national leaders of the movement to bar the use of affirmative-action preferences in education, employment, and contracting. The effort to get it published was led by Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute and a leader of successful campaigns in California, Michigan, and Washington to ban affirmative-action preferences at public colleges and other state and local agencies.

The next affirmative action battlegrounds

Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Higher Education

From the issue dated May 4, 2007

4 States Named as New Targets in Affirmative-Action Fight

Critics of affirmative action announced last week efforts to get bans on racial and ethnic preferences on the ballots in four states — Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Oklahoma — as part of a plan to thrust the issue into the national spotlight in the November 2008 elections.

Ward Connerly, the prominent anti-affirmative-action activist who played a key role in the successful campaigns for similar measures in California in 1996, Washington State in 1998, and Michigan last fall, is advising the newly formed state campaign organizations and was on hand for each of last week's announcements. He said an additional state, either Nebraska or South Dakota, would soon be added to the list.

"Getting our nation to the point of applying a single standard to all Americans is one of the most crucial issues of our time," Mr. Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, said at the first of the press conferences held last week, in Denver. His group says it seeks to turn the November 4, 2008, election day into what it calls a "Super Tuesday for Equal Rights," with the goal of getting enough states to ban affirmative-action preferences in public-college admissions and other areas to send a clear message about their unpopularity to the nation's leaders.

Several civil-rights organizations are mobilizing efforts to battle the proposed ballot measures. For example, the Colorado Unity Coalition, consisting of about 40 business, civil-rights, religious, and labor organizations, held meetings to organize an opposition campaign there prior to last week's announcement. Bill Vandenberg, one of its leaders, said, "We believe we will be successful in educating Coloradans about the initiative and ensuring they know this initiative will do nothing to build Colorado's economy or our education system."

The Colorado Unity Coaliton formed 11 years ago to fight a similar measure that never gathered enough petition signatures to get on the ballot. Since then, the coalition has dissuaded the state legislature from adopting several bills to curtail affirmative action.

Mary A. Ratliff, president of the Missouri state conference of local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she planned to look to her organization's national leadership, as well as to other local and national civil-rights groups, for assistance. "We are going to bring in whoever we need to bring in to help us fight this fight," she said.

Wade J. Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a national coalition of nearly 200 civil-rights organizations, said he expected many of his group's members to enter the fray, either directly or through their state affiliates. "I don't think that any of these states are particularly easy marks for Connerly," he said.

Petition Challenges Likely

In all four of the states where press conferences were held last week, the proposed ballot measures have essentially the same wording. Their key operative clause reads: "The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting." The state groups set up to campaign for the measures all have the words "Civil Rights Initiative" in their names.

At all four of last week's news conferences, Mr. Connerly cited the recent controvery over radio personality Don Imus's racist remarks and the wide acceptance of false accusations against Duke University lacrosse team players as examples of how "race will continue to divide our nation as long as we insist on treating people differently based on ethnicity or gender."

"We have to get past that kind of thinking," Mr. Connerly said, "and we must start by getting our government out of the business of privileging some citizens over others."

The executive director of the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative is Valery Pech Orr, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1995 Adarand Constructors v. Peña decision, which dealt with the use of affirmative action in awarding government contracts. Linda Chavez, the syndicated columnist and founder of the Center for Equal Opportunity, will serve as an honorary co-chairman of the campaign in Colorado, where she was raised.

In a written statement issued last week, Ms. Orr expressed confidence the measure will prevail, saying, "We in this state are individualists; racial and gender preferences run counter to our most basic values, and we expect that that will be made abundantly clear on November 4, 2008."

The Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is led by a former director of admissions at North Central Missouri College, Timothy P. Asher, who says the college refused to renew his contract in June 2004 because he had alleged that one of the institution's scholarship programs was discriminating against white students. In an interview last week, Neil G. Nuttall, president of North Central Missouri, said his institution's decision not to renew Mr. Asher's contract had nothing to do with the scholarship program. "The cause of his nonrenewal was insubordination," Mr. Nuttall said.

The organizations formed to direct the preference-ban campaigns must still gather enough petition signatures to get the measures on the ballots. A spokeswoman for the Detroit-based Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary, which filed several lawsuits challenging Michigan's preference ban, said her group plans to fight the measures in other states using one of the chief tactics it employed in Michigan: accusing those gathering petition signatures of voter fraud.

"We have had a fair amount of discussion with both civil-rights and lesbian and gay groups, and it is our view that what we have to do is stop these ballot initiatives before they get on the ballot," the spokeswoman, Shanta Driver, said last week.

Section: Government & Politics
Volume 53, Issue 35, Page A34

One rock Color and Money left unturned: The student loan scandal

At the time Color and Money went to press, people were just starting to learn how about the cozy relationships betweens many college administrators and student loan providers. The upshot was that many students were being steered toward lenders who charged them higher interest rates than they might get elsewhere, making college even less affordable.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's federal reporters have been on the scandal like a pack of pit bulls. You can find out the latest at chronicle.com. This story offers an excellent overview. A Congressional report on the problem was issued in June.

The Texas 10 Percent Plan survives yet another legislative challenge

Experts on Texas state politics say it was the intervention of lawmakers from rural parts of the state that kept the state legislature from passing a measure that would have curtailed the plan's reach. To learn more, read coverage in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Will colleges' diversity budgets soon come under attack?

Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Higher Education

From the issue dated February 2, 2007

Diversity-Program Administrators Fear Challenges to Their Spending

Many college administrators who gathered here last week for a national conference on educating black students said they saw a new threat to their programs emerging from a libertarian group's recent efforts to demand a strict accounting of expenditures on diversity by the University of Colorado at Boulder.

In a report released the week before, the Independence Institute, a research organization based in Golden, Colo., alleged that the state's flagship university had little idea how much money it spends promoting diversity and poorly manages such expenditures. University officials denied that they were spending any such money wastefully, but two Republican state representatives in Colorado have cited the report in calling for the state auditor to thoroughly examine the university's diversity expenditures.

News of the Colorado development distressed, but hardly surprised, many of the nearly 170 college administrators, faculty members, and admissions counselors who subsequently gathered here for Clemson University's Fifth National Conference on Best Practices in Black Student Achievement.

Although several participants said they had grown accustomed to justifying their affirmative-action efforts and felt confident they would be able to account for every dollar spent on diversity programs, others said they worried that colleges were ill prepared to defend such efforts against those demanding that they be subjected to a strict cost-benefit analysis.

The prospect of colleges' being asked to account for every dollar spent on diversity is "something to think about, maybe even sweat about," said an administrator from a public university in Indiana.

One of the conference's featured speakers, Damon A. Williams, the University of Connecticut's assistant vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, said he saw the Independence Institute's efforts to scrutinize university spending on diversity as representing "the next wave" of attacks on affirmative action. He said he had responded to news of the institute's report by sending letters to three major national higher-education organizations, which he declined to name, urging them to mobilize colleges elsewhere to defend themselves against similar scrutiny.

"I think many institutions are greatly at risk," Mr. Williams said. Colleges have only in the past few years begun documenting the benefits of diversity, he said, and while they generally can make good arguments that the diversity programs serve a valuable purpose, they have not done enough to track the money spent on such efforts and their results.

Fear of Paralysis

Jessica Peck Corry, director of the Independence Institute's Campus Accountability Project, said last week that she found it "disheartening" that college administrators would see her organization's demand for financial accountability in diversity programs as an attack on the programs themselves.

"This has nothing to do with affirmative action," she said. "This has to do with fiscal policy." She said she had hoped colleges and her organization could find common ground in their desire to make sure diversity programs "are getting the best bang for their buck."

It is also the case, however, that the Independence Institute has challenged the legality of some of the University of Colorado's affirmative-action efforts, criticizing its past practice of reserving some workshops and classes solely for members of minority groups. Its most recent report similarly criticized minority-oriented programs that the institute perceived as promoting racial and ethnic separatism.

Richard Bayer, dean of enrollment services at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said he saw the inquiry about diversity spending at Colorado as part of a broader movement to demand accountability of higher-education institutions. "To some degree I think it is going to have an impact on diversity on campus," he said. "It makes you stop and think very carefully about how you are spending your dollars, and are you making a difference."

"Every time we try to do something, there is a group that is challenging what we are doing," Mr. Bayer said. "We are going from analysis to, almost, paralysis."

Some administrators who expressed the most confidence in their ability to defend their diversity expenditures were those from states in which affirmative action has come under the most intense scrutiny. Karen Eley Sanders, assistant provost and director of academic support at Virginia Tech, said being the subject of past investigations by the Virginia-based Center for Equal Opportunity had left her institution at a point where "I think we can account for what we are doing with our dollars."

Rahim Reed, associate executive vice chancellor for campus-community relations at the University of California at Davis, said a ban on affirmative-action preferences, approved by voters in that state in 1996, had forced his institution to restructure its diversity programs in ways that may have made them less vulnerable to attacks on their spending.

Rather than operating stand-alone programs focused on specific racial or ethnic groups — an approach that he sees as most exposed to auditors' scrutiny — his campus has incorporated diversity into its basic mission and broadened its diversity programs to include a wide range of populations, he said.

Section: Government & Politics
Volume 53, Issue 22, Page A20

The last big barrier to minority access to college: the achievement gap. (Reprinted with permission from The Chronicle of Higher Education)

What Color Is an A?

Colleges take on a persistent but rarely discussed issue: the poor grades earned by many minority students

Chantrice Ollie is an all-too-rare find at most predominantly white, selective colleges: a black student with a high grade-point average.

She applied to Skidmore College with weaker academic credentials than most of the students it admits. Her public high school, in Cleveland, offered few advanced courses. She had earned mostly A's, but her SAT scores were well below Skidmore's usual standards.

Had Ms. Ollie enrolled at a different elite college, there is a good chance her grade-point average would be well below the 3.6 she has earned at Skidmore in her freshman year. But Skidmore — a small, private, liberal-arts college in a town known for its horse tracks — has committed itself to taking in academic long shots and turning them into winners. On the whole, the black students admitted through Skidmore's special programs for subpar applicants from economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds earn higher grades than those who enroll through the regular admissions process. The same holds true for other racial and ethnic groups.

Ms. Ollie attributes much of her academic success so far to the emotional support she receives from the programs' staff and her fellow participants. "It's a family," she says.

In finding ways to increase the share of its minority students who perform at high levels, Skidmore is itself exceptional. After more than five decades of racial integration and four decades of affirmative action, most of the nation's colleges and universities have not come close to eliminating the performance gap that separates many black, Hispanic, and Native American students from their white and Asian-American counterparts.

Although some colleges say they are working on the problem, few have any proof that their strategies are effective. The paucity of minority undergraduates earning high grade-point averages remains one of the chief obstacles to diversifying the enrollments of advanced-degree programs.

The crisis could grow more dire. As legal and legislative assaults on affirmative action continue, more graduate and professional schools may have to stop considering applicants' race and ethnicity. Unless colleges can find ways to improve minority undergraduates' academic performance, there is likely to be a drop in the percentage of black, Hispanic, and Native American students becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers.

Susan B. Layden, who oversees Skidmore's efforts to promote minority achievement as associate dean of student affairs, is among a growing group of educators and researchers who believe that colleges must do far more to help minority students earn high grades.

"This is not rocket science," she says. "We can do this across higher education, especially at the elites."

Worse Than Expected

In seeking to increase their numbers of high-achieving black, Hispanic, and Native American students, colleges face two formidable problems: Such students are substantially underrepresented among applicants with high grades and SAT scores. And even those who perform well in high school tend to do worse in college than white and Asian-American students with comparable SAT scores and grades — a problem known as "the overprediction phenomenon."

The underrepresentation of black, Hispanic, and Native American students among highly qualified college applicants is often blamed on disparities in family education and income, as well as on inequities in elementary and secondary education. But the children of many affluent professionals in those same groups are struggling, too — tending, on average, to score lower on the SAT and academic-achievement tests than white and Asian-American students who attend inferior schools and have parents with less education and money.

Education researchers and other social scientists have offered a host of explanations for such performance gaps, including the residual effects of slavery and segregation, the stigmatization of high academic achievers by their minority peers, and the lack of minority role models among college administrators and professors. All those theories are the subject of vigorous debate. (See article on Page A26.)

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that white and Asian-American students continue to outperform black, Hispanic, and Native American students by a significant degree. According to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the percentage of the nation's white undergraduates earning mostly A's is about twice the proportion of black undergraduates doing so.

Researchers with access to the transcripts of students at selective colleges say the performance gaps are even more pronounced there, especially at the highest achievement levels and among students majoring in mathematics, engineering, the sciences, and technology-related fields.

Such gaps exist in advanced-degree programs as well. Studies of law schools conducted since the early 1990s have found that about half of black students rank in the bottom fourth, or even the bottom tenth, of their classes (the variation mainly reflects differences in the law schools and student populations being studied). One of the chief goals of programs such as Skidmore's is to ensure that minority students are better represented among students ranked in the middle and near the top.

Academic Boot Camp

In an attempt to compensate for the short supply of black, Hispanic, and Native American students who meet its regular admissions standards, Skidmore, with a total enrollment of about 2,400, annually admits about 40 freshmen whose failure to make the cut seems related to their disadvantaged backgrounds. Once they matriculate, the college provides them with support services intended to help them succeed academically.

Skidmore has two intertwined efforts under way: the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which receives state support and serves only New Yorkers, and the Academic Opportunity Program, for students from other states.

The programs assist students who have high high-school grades and other traits signaling strong long-term academic potential, but who have low SAT scores or come from schools that offered few advanced courses.

One of those students is Uriel Salcedo, a sophomore whose parents are working-class Mexican immigrants. The teachers at his Denver public high school lavished high grades on him and praised his writing ability. But when he arrived at Skidmore, he says, he got C's and D's on his papers: "It was like I had been living a lie most of my life."

The Skidmore programs are designed to ease that transition, starting before the freshman year even begins. Each incoming student must attend a four-and-a-half-week academic boot camp. Students spend their days taking an intensive writing course, an intensive math course, and a course in which they must digest — and write analytically about — the ideas of figures like Plato and Darwin. They are required to study for three hours a night, with the help of professional tutors.

Bobby Langford, a a black freshman from Worcester, Mass., says the summer program pushed him "to the limit," but that his writing skills improved substantially. Moreover, the philosophers he studied are so firmly implanted in his head that often, he jokes, "I think I am thinking too much."

Vaughn Greene, a black junior who enrolled through the Higher Education Opportunity Program and has served as a head resident in the dormitories during the past two summer institutes, says many students at first fail to take the summer program seriously. After getting slammed with D's and F's on their first papers, however, "they realize it is time to switch gears and actually do something because these people aren't playing."

The lesson appears to sink in. As of last fall, 78, or nearly 60 percent, of the 133 students involved in the two Skidmore programs had grade-point averages of at least 3.0, and more than a fourth had at least 3.5.

In trying to close the academic performance gap between the races, Skidmore is taking on one of academe's touchiest subjects. Officials of colleges and universities generally refuse to disclose the median grade-point averages of their minority students. Many are hesitant to even discuss the performance gap, for fear that doing so would stigmatize minority students or provide ammunition to those seeking an end to race-conscious admissions.

Critics of affirmative action say the academic performance gap is simply a result of colleges' willingness to lower their standards for the sake of diversity. "If you systematically admit students with lower academic qualifications, then those students are going perform below the level" of regularly admitted students, says Roger B. Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, an advocacy group. The center has produced several reports citing the lower achievement of minority students as evidence that admissions offices give substantial preferences to certain minority candidates.

'An Ignored Issue'

Some college leaders argue that the performance gap merits discussion regardless of the political ramifications. "There are people who are just waiting to pounce" on any bad news about minority achievement to make a point, says Joseph A. Tolliver, St. Lawrence University's vice president for student life. But "if you don't talk about it, how are you going to solve it?"

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which has attracted national attention by successfully fighting the overprediction phenomenon and getting black and Hispanic students with high SAT scores to perform at least as well as those scores would predict. He calls the performance gap "an ignored issue." College leaders, he says, "should be more concerned about seeking the truth and less concerned about what sounds popular or even politically correct."

Discussions of the possible causes of the performance gap can easily veer toward subjects that are controversial, even taboo. Glenn C. Loury, a professor of social sciences and economics at Brown University who previously directed Boston University's Institute on Race and Social Division, observes that some academics fault the cultures associated with certain minority groups or even suggest that genetics may be at work. He can feel uncomfortable even entertaining the idea that cultural forces play a role because, in doing so, he says, "you are presuming there is something wrong with African-American kids, and now you are undertaking to fix them."

The discussion is further complicated by the effectiveness of many historically black and predominantly Hispanic colleges. Many of them produce large numbers of minority graduates with academic records strong enough to easily gain admission to most graduate programs and law and medical schools. Their relative success suggests that predominantly white colleges may place a distinct set of obstacles in the paths of minority students, an idea that can put campus administrators on the defensive.

Talks Under Way

Many college officials who are working to close the performance gap say the initial impetus for their efforts was the 1998 publication of William G. Bowen and Derek Bok's The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (Princeton University Press). Based on their analyses of data from 28 selective colleges, Mr. Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, and Mr. Bok, a former president of Harvard University, extensively documented race- and ethnicity-linked differences in achievement, including those attributable to the overprediction phenomenon. They also found a strong correlation between undergraduate grades and future earnings, with black students who earn low grades suffering more, in terms of their future earnings, than white students with comparable academic records.

Since then dozens of colleges have joined efforts to study and discuss the academic performance gap, although most have yet to bear fruit.

Among the efforts under way is the Consortium on High Achievement and Success, comprising more than 30 private liberal-arts colleges and small universities, including Amherst, Brandeis, Oberlin, Pomona, St. Lawrence, and Swarthmore. Established in 2001 and based at Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn., the group has adopted a statement of principles declaring that "all students who matriculate to our campuses are capable of succeeding," and that member institutions intend to focus on "promoting high educational achievement, not remediation."

So far the consortium has collected data from member colleges to determine what approaches are working, encouraged its members to replicate any programs shown to remedy the especially severe education problems of black and Hispanic men or to academically challenge highly talented minority students, and worked to design academic support programs aimed at helping students perform well in difficult entry-level courses. It plans to hold meetings in the coming months on effective approaches to educating freshmen, teaching writing, and advising students who wish to enter the health professions.

"We are trying all sorts of things. Some things are succeeding, some are not," says Mr. Tolliver, of St. Lawrence, who is a member of the consortium's Steering Board.

As part of a separate effort, scientists from 18 higher-education institutions, including Bowdoin College, Harvard University, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and the University of Washington, have been meeting since late 2005 in symposia on improving diversity in the sciences. Member institutions have agreed to submit data on grade-point averages, retention rates, and other measures of success, to establish a basis for long-term studies seeking to identify effective strategies for improving minority achievement.

Wendy E. Raymond, an associate professor of biology at Williams College who helps to lead the effort, says the federal government has spent millions of dollars on programs that "have had very little statistical success" in getting more minority students to become scientists. "Let's encourage funding for programs that actually work," she says.

Elsewhere on the research front, Mr. Bowen is gathering data on the performance gap as part of a study of 21 major public universities. The Council on Aid to Education's Collegiate Learning Assessment is seeking to measure how much undergraduates at various colleges are learning. And the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering is gauging member colleges' progress in getting minority students to earn high grades.

Few Proven Strategies

From 2002 to 2005, L. Scott Miller, then executive director of the Consortium for High Academic Performance, at the University of California at Berkeley, led a three-member team in evaluating more than 100 efforts to improve the educational achievement of minority or disadvantaged undergraduates. The researchers found many programs and strategies that focused on increasing graduation rates, but very few that explicitly sought to help more minority students earn high grades.

Moreover, the team found, few of the programs examined had undergone any sort of rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness. As a result, its report concluded, selective colleges "have few programs and strategies with strong empirical evidence showing that they help increase the number of high-achieving undergraduates from underrepresented groups."

Among the few exceptions cited were Skidmore's two programs and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

Established by Mr. Hrabowski in 1988, the Meyerhoff program recruits high-achieving, well-prepared students interested in science, engineering, and mathematics and takes steps to ensure that they perform academically every bit as well as might be predicted based on their high-school grades and SAT scores. Among its key components, the program urges faculty members to act as mentors, monitors students' progress, and encourages students in the program to help each other in study groups.

The university has compiled data showing that participants have much higher grade-point averages, and are much more likely to get admitted to graduate programs in science, engineering, and math than are students of the same minority groups who emerged from high school with similar academic profiles.

Unfortunately for other colleges, the Meyerhoff program's success depends largely on its ability to bring high-achieving minority students together. Because the nation's high schools annually produce only a few thousand black and Hispanic graduates with Meyerhoff-caliber academic profiles, there is a limit on the number of colleges that can duplicate the approach.

Expensive Proposition

Mr. Miller and his fellow researchers concluded that the Skidmore programs would be easier for colleges to copy. Both the Skidmore and Meyerhoff programs are costly, however. The Skidmore programs had a total budget of $4-million in the 2006-7 academic year.

Much of the money that is not used for financial aid pays the salaries of the educators who advise and provide the intensive tutoring to the students involved.

The office that houses the Skidmore programs has a welcoming feel. Students are free to drop in to seek academic help or simply banter and chat with staff members. On a recent Friday morning, Monica D. Minor, director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, helped Eilin Nunez, a sophomore from the Dominican Republic, plan a term paper about politics in the Middle East. In another room, Lewis Rosengarten, the associate director, worked with Linda Leandre, a black freshman, to revise a paper that she had written for an English-composition class.

It is not as if Skidmore's minority students are completely happy with the college. The freshman class is just 3 percent black and 3.7 percent Hispanic. In April students here staged a protest demanding that the college do more to promote diversity and fight racial bias.

"There are a lot of people here who have no idea where we come from, the struggles we have had to get to college," says Ms. Ollie, the freshman from Cleveland.

The program's advisers make a point of urging students not let their studies suffer by getting overinvolved in minority-student organizations or efforts to transform the college. Ms. Layden, the associate dean of student affairs, says she occasionally intervenes with administrators when she determines that they are distracting minority students from their studies by asking them to help with minority recruitment or public-liaison efforts.

The conventional wisdom in academe is that students will perform better academically if they feel good about themselves socially and personally. The Skidmore programs operate on the assumption that doing well academically helps students feel good about themselves, says Ms. Layden. To help minority students feel they can achieve at higher levels regardless of what is going on around them, she says, "we create a smaller environment within this place where students feel safe."

An interview with two college leaders who are getting minority students to achieve at high levels (reprinted with permission from The Chronicle)

Peter Schmidt (Moderator):
Welcome to the Chronicle's live colloquy. I am Peter Schmidt, a Chronicle deputy editor who covers affirmative action and other issues related to diversity, and my guests today are Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and Susan B. Layden, associate dean of student affairs at Skidmore College. Both operate programs shown to help more black, Hispanic, and Native American college students earn high grades, and both have graciously offered to field questions. Thank you, Ms. Layden and Mr. Hrabowski, for being here today. I also want to thank those who have taken the time to join us.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
In getting things started, I would like to ask a few questions to help broadly frame the discussion. First of all, why have you two chosen to focus on promoting high achievement so much? I mean, the old joke goes "What do you call the guy who finished last in his medical school class? You call him doctor." So long as black, Hispanic, and Native American students students are graduating from our colleges and professional schools and earning academic credentials, should we really be all that worried about whether they have as many high grades on their transcripts as students who are white or Asian American? Ms. Layden, I am curious about your perspective on this as an administrator at a small, elite liberal arts college.

Susan B. Layden:
We find so few students of color at the highest levels of achievement in their programs, beginning in undergraduate school. There is a relationship between achievement at the undergraduate level, and subsequent performance in graduate school, professional school, and in their careers. We know that we need more students going to graduate and professional schools and entering professions at all possible levels. Here is the point: The country needs to see people of all types achieving at levels of excellence. For example, we know that people who enter the professorate tend to have excelled in their academic work and research across disciplines, and we have far too few professors of color in the sciences, humanities, engineering, and social sciences. We need role models of all types in our colleges and universities. Focusing on high achievement should not prevent us from supporting students at other levels of achievement.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
Mr. Hrabowski, anything you would like to add, coming from a large research university? You told me that you think too many colleges are ignoring this issue. Why do you think that is the case?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
Most colleges have never experienced or seen large numbers of students of color excelling, and one has to wonder if people think it's possible.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
At least a few college administrators, as well as people affiliated with foundations that seek to promote diversity, have told me that we really won't see a marked increase in the share of minority students earning high GPAs without dramatic improvements in elementary and secondary education. Do you agree with this, Mr. Hrabowski? Is it realistic, or wise, to wait for schools to improve?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
There is no doubt that the stronger pre-college background of a student the greater the probability excelling in college. However, large numbers of well-prepared students of color and others enter colleges and do not receive the academic and emotional support necessary for success. We can do much more now to increase the number of such students who excel.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
How about you, Ms. Layden? You operate programs at Skidmore that focus on taking applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, who do not meet Skidmore's regular admissions standards, and getting them to perform better than might be expected based on their academic profiles coming out of high school. How far down into the applicant pool does your program reach? How far could it?

Susan B. Layden:
Skidmore's Opportunity Programs receive approximately 300 referrals each year from our Office of Admissions, and we send offers of enrollment to about 60 of those students. We are making offers to the strongest students in our pool-- high-achieving students with weak testing from weak schools. If we had the capacity-- both in financial aid and staffing-- to serve more students, we could easily do so as these students are in our pool.

Question from Donald Earl Collins, Partnerships for College Access and Success:
Although I know that the vast majority of students of color attend predominantly White institutions, what is the high achievement rate of students of color at historically Black, Latino or American Indian institutions? And, if rates at those institutions are higher, what are those institutions doing that predominantly White and the 180 or so elite institutions could also do?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
We can find high achievement among students at a number of HPCUs, however if you look at the retention and graduation rates at many of these campuses are quite low because of the lack of academic preparation of students and, in other case, because of financial challenges. Historically, many of the highest achieving African American leaders were graduated from these institutions. A number of these institutions continue to graduate our black leaders. What we can learn from these institutions is the importance of close interaction between faculty and students and emphasis on supporting students.

Question from Sandi O'Brien,Morningside College:
Would you consider your work with students at Skidmore College to be a "learning community"? I have done similar work and consider my group to be a learning community that is both academic and social in it's support of students.

Susan B. Layden:
Yes. Absolutely.

Question from Sam, UT-Austin:
Is the performance gap more of an issue than the educational attainment gap, along racial/ethnic lines, or are they inextricably linked? Is the assumption that the performance gap leads to the attainment gap or are they mutually exclusive? Do good grades necessitate completion and do bad grades necessitate drop-out (stop-out)? Should we focus more exclusively on completion and see the performance gap as a symptom?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
Clearly performance and attainment are inextricably linked. Generally, the stronger the academic performance of a student, the greater the chance that that student will graduate from college and move on to either graduate school or a good job. Unfortunately, a number of student perform poorly and will leave college. Sometimes the performance problem is related to academic preparation, and in other cases to financial or other personal problems. We should continue to focus on helping students complete programs while paying more attention to their performance along the way.

Question from Jennifer Ruark, CHE:
As a result of legal pressure, few colleges continue to operate programs solely for minority students. Most, Skidmore and UMBC among them, have opened such programs to students of any race or ethnicity. Does having to serve students of any race or ethnicity dilute your efforts? Do you think other colleges are less likely to set up such programs or give them the money they need if white and Asian American students will be in the mix?

Susan B. Layden:
Skidmore's Opportunity Programs were never raced-based programs. The State guidelines that established the program are based on economic and academic eligibility.

We do believe that the diversity of our program actually helps us achieve some of our learning and other program goals. Our students often talk about this throughout their Skidmore experience.

Question from Nancy, urban community college:
What do you think is the single most important factor a community college can address which will improve the grades of black, Hispanic, and Native American community college students? Thank you

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
They can focus more attention on the first year of academic and social adjustment to the institution. Students are often intimidated by the college experience, and sometimes don't know how to study. They need as much guidance as possible in a caring environment.

Question from Jeffrey Brainard, Chronicle of Higher Education:
Although the federal government has sponsored programs for more than three decades to improve students' performance in math and science, many commentators have suggested that progress has been slow and few such programs have been proven effective. Why isn't there a stronger consensus by now about what works? And what should be the standard of efficacy, if not randomized controlled trials?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
We have not given math and science education the level of rigorous analysis that we show in math and science research. We need the best thinkers looking closely at what works and raising questions about how we are spending money today.

Question from David B. Merrell, Abilene Christian University:
How do you structure a program to help a special population without being discriminatory? How do you funnel students into a program without apparent discrimination, not discrimination on performance by appearing to target a minority population?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
I suggest structuring a program that is strengths-based that would include the population of interest, as well as other students. The more inclusive the program the less likely the backlash. The most important challenge is to create an environment that encourages honest, robust dialogue about the issues.

Question from Alan Contreras, State of Oregon:
The Chronicle introduces this colloquy with the phrase: "Most colleges have not come close to eliminating the academic performance gap that separates many minority students from their counterparts." This clearly begs the question: why does society expect colleges as institutions to eliminate this gap, rather than students, parents, high schools and other parties? I'd be interested in the panelists' thoughts on the responsibility, if any, of colleges to guarantee a particular performance level by a specific group of students.

Susan B. Layden:
A good question, and fair point. I think that colleges and universities do have a responsibility to be committed to the success of all students-- and to think of their students' success as a measure of the institutional success. It is also the case that if we look at every problem as one that someone else should fix, then we will never make any systemic change.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
Spelman College's president, Beverly Tatum, stopped by The Chronicle a few weeks ago. I asked her about the academic performance gap, and she responded with a question I found striking. She asked: "In a society built on white supremacy, would we really be happy if the black kids or the Latino kids were doing as well as the white kids?" Do you think the elimination of the academic performance gap is an outcome the powers that be in our society truly want?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
I don't think that Americans in general have come to understand what it will take for the performance gap to be eliminated. Unfortunately, sometimes when children of color are succeeding we do find others questioning any special support they receive, for example, and we immediately begin hearing accusations of unfairness. Part of the problem is we've not taught history well enough in the country to understand why we are where we are today with regard today to the disparity in performance when thinking about race and income. I do believe that most Americans understand that we as a country will be more competitive if we have larger numbers of educated citizens. We simply don't understand what it will take to make that happen. What becomes especially sensitive is what my book says about raising high achieving African Americans -- we need to be more supportive about raising families of color and working class families, as they raise their children.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
As an afterthought to the last question, we need our American leaders asking the hard questions, as president Tatum was doing.

Question from Karin Fischer, Chronicle of Higher Education:
Do you have any concern that by placing these students into a special program you risk stigmatizing them? How do ensure that as they adjust academically to the expectations of college, they also are making a healthy transition socially?

Susan B. Layden:
Good question. Of course, we worry about stigmatizing students-- and the reality is that this can be their experience. We do a lot of work during our summer program and during their first year to get students connected to faculty, to administrators, and to other students on campus. We strongly encourage our students to participate in pre-orientation programs in the hope that such experiences will help them bond with other students in advance of beginning their first year. We talk about this issue with our students and ultimately hope that their determination and courage will help them through the rough moments. We also hope that having a "home base" of sorts in the Opportunity Programs' Office helps them vent and work through these times with staff who know and understand them-- and know and understand the campus.

Question from Bernice, SPSU:
Has anyone seen the value of including the family in the dialog of the student with the Univeristy?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
We at UMBC emphasize the importance of families, especially for our first year students. Young people don't become adults overnight. And parents know their children better than others, usually. And so we encourage interaction between the campus and families, particularly in the first year, to support students.

Question from Michael, small private college:
One of the challenges our campus faces is the lack of a "critical mass" of non-white students. While we are working to change it, the number of minority students remains small. We've struggled finding the best way to support students without further identifying them as "different" than the rest of campus. Any suggestions?

Susan B. Layden:
I think having focus groups which could be with only minority students or could include minority students can be helping in hearing and understanding their voices. It can also be helpful to invite professionals of color to the campus to speak to all students and to meet with different groups. Finally, identify alumni of color, even if the number is small, and invite them to spend time on campus.

Question from Jowel Laguerre, Truckee Meadows Community College:
Dr, Hrabroski, What do you think community colleges can contribute to the achievement of under-represented students? Is there anything we can do better?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
Community college are playing an increasingly important role in America in educating these students. As a matter of fact, I often encourage four year institutions to look at strategies used by community colleges to support students. Most important, these institutions can strengthen the reading, math, and writing skills while helping them to dream about the possibilities.

Question from Corey Bradford, SIU:
Question 1

I have found that many minority students have lower expectations for what they can achieve in college. Many see a letter grade of C as being acceptable for most challenging classes. How can we help minority students overcome any self-thought in their abilities to achieve academic excellence and what factors on campus may be contributing to such negative feelings?

Question 2
On some campuses, the majority of minorities are first generation students or low income students, so their focus is on surviving and graduating from college, not necessarily achieving some type of academic honors. They face many obstacles that other students do not have to deal with such as integration, isolation, prejudice, low expectations, unmet financial need, and unwelcoming environments. How do we get the financial support necessary from campus leaders to implement effective support programs that work to help minority students overcome these obstacles and to achieve their full potential?

Susan B. Layden:
For some students getting a degree is the end goal for college; I don't necessarily believe this is just a problem for minority or first-generation students.

We do believe that having high academic expectations for incoming students-- from the recruitment process on--- is significant in promoting academic achievement.

Getting institutional support for these efforts is hard work, and it requires broad institutional support. What is cool about Skidmore is that we are fortunate to have support from our trustees, senior administration and faculty. This support is also evident to the students, and this helps them as well.

This kind of support is significant. It also requires constant work.

Question from Charles Graessle, Olivet College:
We have a long history of servicing 12 - 18% African Americans each year. We also note that the first year is critical for these students, but we also have noticed that there is a continued difficulty through the next three years. My impression is that underrepresented minorities face barriers to long-term persistence. I have looked at the IPEDS data and found that the percent receiving federal aid is as powerful - confounded - variable that can explain a lot of the inter-institutional graduation rate data. On another note, I agree with previous posters that this topic is too often ignored. (I noticed that the recent Chronicle article on USNWR rankings, which did discuss graduation rates, did not discuss economic need or underrepresented minority status. For the record, I enjoyed the article!) Has anyone else notice these patterns?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
There is no doubt that we need to be looking carefully at the financial challenges that low-income students face. For example, students of color and low income students are often reluctant to take out loans. In other cases, students may not have considered the negative impact of outside work in relationship to a number of courses taken per semester. We also need to look at the impact of family circumstances on students.

Question from Gilda Garcia, Texas State University-San Marcos:
If stereotyping has a negative impact on grades for minority students and since this dynamic is often subconscious, what can be done to change this mindset?

Susan B. Layden:
We try to emphasize the success of our students. If we spend time pointing to the significant accomplishments of our students, then students come to sense that this is what we expect from them and what we believe they are capable of. Faculty at the college also come to expect high achievement from the Opportunity Program students. This is work that never ends.

Question from Sandi O'Brien, Morningside College:
Do you see value in social and emotional support from faculty and staff (within ethical limits of course) in addition to empowering the students to be their own support community on a campus. Can you speak to that?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
Absolutely. It is important to create a culture that encourages faculty and staff to get to know students beyond the classroom and also to encourage students to give each other support. One of the reasons our UMBC students do so well is that faculty and staff connect with them in labs, in theatre productions, at the lunch table. And equally important, we strongly encourage group study and peer support.

Question from Milton Marks, Trustee, City College of San Francisco:
Particularly for community colleges that bear the largest burden for remedial education, there needs to be greater cooperation between colleges and school districts. It's very difficult, however, to talk about the high failure rate for some groups without people getting defensive. Are there good examples of community college districts and school districts cooperating in ways that REALLY make a difference in student performance?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
We have been working with the Baltimore County community colleges and Montgomery College, in Maryland, and the school systems in those districts to look closely at teaching and learning. In fact, a number of National Science Foundation programs encourage interaction between k-12 and higher education in support of students. The most important factor we find in leading to success is trust among the different groups, and trust can only be built through day-to-day interaction and understanding each other's perspectives.

Question from Tom Brady, College of Mount Saint Vincent:
We provide a Bridge program for "at risk"students, plus lots of academic support, yet our black and Hispanic students still lag. What else can we do to overcome poor preparation?

Susan B. Layden:
One thing to do would be to look at the rigor and challenges of your bridge program. Does it accurately prepare students for the demands of their first year? What changes can be made to improve this relationship?

To what extent are other factors influencing academic performance? For example, are you sure students are lagging because of poor preparation?

Also, we need to remember that there isn't a five-week solution to poor preparation; rather, we need to develop four-year long programs of support to bridge the gap and promote high academic achievement.

Question from John Rosenberg, www.discriminations.us:
For Mr. Hrabowski: Is the Meyerhoff program at UMBC, or any other program at UMBC, limited to minorities? If so, doesn't it run afoul of the Fourth Circuit's Podberesky decision, which barred a race-exclusive scholarship at UM-College Park?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
None of our programs are limited to minorities. All are inclusive.

Question from Peter Schmidt:
One of the more vexing research findings that I encountered in reporting my story was the fact that, where African Americans have made economic and educational gains, those gains are not necessarily being handed down to their children. In aggregate, the children of African Americans who have arguably "made it," and are in the top fourth of society in terms of socioeconomic status, are performing at about the same level as working class whites. Mr. Hrabowski, you have written two books guiding black parents on how to raise academically successful children. Why do you think the children of upper and upper-middle-class black professionals are not doing better in school and college?

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
Large numbers of children are influenced by the popular culture and unfortunately in America many children it's not cool to be smart. Even as middle-class minority students work to support their children we find that what these students see in the media and what they often hear in their neighborhoods is counter to what their parents may be telling them. The point of our books on beating the odds and overcoming the odds is that parents have to be even more proactive in countering these negative messages. It is important to say that in spite of the discouraging findings we can identify many high-achieving minority students. We should be learning from these examples, such as the Meyerhoff scholars at UMBC.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III:
I think it's important to encourage colleagues on campuses, and the general public, to engage in honest discussion about these issues. The real challenge is to create environments in which people can say what they actually think. All of us need to be open-minded in thinking about the problems and solutions.

Question from admissions officer, Ivy graduate school:
Susan, if there is indeed a link between high performance and graduate school attendance, I am wondering if your programs, and other programs like your, do any tracking of graduates of your program to see where they go? Do you play any role in suggesting them to further their education? What can schools like ours, with high standards for admission, do to seek out high achieving students of color graduating from undergraduate institutions?

Susan B. Layden:
We have not done enough longer-term tracking of our students, and plan to do so.

We face some of the same problems promoting graduate school that students encounter when they think about college in the first place: how do I pay for this? My family needs me to come back and help support them.

Good advising is extremely important. I also think that contacts are important. Wouldn't it be great if we could develop partnerships between colleges and graduate school programs? We would love to see elite graduate programs recruit students from our program!

Peter Schmidt (Moderator):
I am afraid we are out of time. I am sorry if we did not get to some questions from our readers, but I am confident that there will be plenty more discussion of these topics in the future. Thank you, Mr. Hrabowski and Ms. Layden, for being here today. I appreciate your time.