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.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Color and Money Gets Positive Review in International Education Journal

The new issue of the International Journal of Educational Advancement has a favorable review of Color and Money.

The reviewer, Christine M. Luce of Vanderbilt University, praises Color and Money for including "novel critiques of the arguments both for and against affirmative action" and says it "realistically portrays the theoretical arguments, research data, and political motivations of the winners and loses in affirmative action policy without regard to political correctness."

She writes: "I find it both rare and refreshing to read such an honest, insightful book, which boldly challenges the status quo." Her review predicts that Color and Money "will certainly shape future debates" on the affirmative action issue.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Study Suggests Poverty Takes Toll on Children's Brains

A new neurological study of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds has found evidence that being raised in poverty may hurt the development of the brain region responsible for problem solving and creativity.

The researchers behind the study, slated for publication in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, say they are hopeful that the lower brain function they have identified in many low-income children can be prevented or reversed. Accordingly, they are collaborating with other neuroscientists who use games and other stimuli to improve the functioning of the brain region in question--the prefrontal cortex--in school-age children.

Nonetheless, the researchers--all from the University of California at Berkeley--say their study's findings provide reason to worry that the environmental conditions experienced by low-income children pose a serious risk to their educational development.

"This is a wake-up call," says one of the study's co-authors, Robert Knight, the director of Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. "It is not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."

The researchers conducted the study by using electroencephalograph, or EEG, to measure the brain activity of two groups of 9- and 10-year-olds--one from low-income backgrounds, the other from high-income backgrounds. None of the children involved had neurological damage or prenatal exposure to drugs and alchohol, but the brains of those from lower-income backgrounds were slower to exhibit responses to stimuli flashed on a screen in front of them.

Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist who is the study's lead author, says the electrical activity in the brains of many of the children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds actually bore some resemblance to the activity in the brains of adults whose prefrontal lobes have been damaged by strokes. "This difference may manifest itself in problem solving and school peformance," he says.

Studies of animals have shown that their prefrontal cortexes can be affected by stress and environmental deprivation. And other studies of humans have shown that children from lower-income backgrounds tend to get significantly less stimulation in early childhood than those who are more privileged.

The good news offered by one study co-author--Thomas Boyce, a pediatrician and developmental psychobiologist--is that it might be possible to improve the brain development of low-income children through steps as simple as encouraging their parents to engage them in conversation more often.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Study: Blacks Reap Smaller Gains from Majors in Lucrative Fields

A new study that tracked minority college students over time found that black students who majored in high-paying fields reaped smaller financial gains than comparable Asian- and Hispanic-American students when they entered the job market.

As discussed in more depth in an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the study tracked about 350 students who had applied for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program for low-income minority students and had gone through its selection process. If found that the salary premium that Asian- and Hispanic-American students received from majoring in science, technology, mathematics, or engineering was 50 percent higher than what black students who had majored in those fields were earning soon after college. Asian- and Hispanic-American students also reaped a higher salary premium than did black students for majoring in professional fields such as business or law.

The researchers behind the study--Tatiana Melguizo, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, and Gregory C. Wolniak, a research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center--found some evidence that variations in occupational choices might help explain the gaps. They did not look into whether discrimination played a role because they did not have sufficient data matching students with their employers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conservative Advocacy Group Demands Admissions Data from UCLA

The Pacific Legal Foundation--a prominent conservative advocacy group--is demanding that the University of California at Los Angeles produce applicant data that might show whether it is considering race in admissions, in violation of a state ban on the practice.

As reported in an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the foundation sent a letter to UCLA last month demanding a host of information under the state's open records laws. Among the documents that it requests in its letter are undergraduate applications (with all personally identifying information removed) from students seeking admission to the Classes of 2005 through 2008; records giving the identities of all applications readers, the scores they gave each application, and their reasons for deciding to admit or reject each candidate; and all handbooks and other documents designed to guide applications readers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post-Election Analyses: Obama's Coattails Saved Affirmative-Action Preferences in Colorado

Ward Connerly's crusade against affirmative-action preferences suffered its first major defeat at the polls on election day, as Colorado voters narrowly rejected his proposed ban on the use of such preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies.

A look back at what happened in Colorado suggests that Connerly's opponents would be mistaken in concluding they have clearly turned the tide against him, however.

For starters, the measure was defeated by an extremely narrow margin: 50.7 percent against, 49.3 percent for. It was not until several days after the election that state election officials concluded that it had, in fact, lost.

More importantly, as a Chronicle of Higher Education analysis of the election results points out, political scientists and other experts believe Barack Obama's campaign played a substantial role in the measure's defeat. Not only did the Obama campaign's formidable advertising blitz and ground game turn Colorado from red to blue--allowing him to win 53 percent of the popular vote--it also brought to the polls a lot of people who had not voted in past elections. They included black and Hispanic voters and college students, populations that have been strongholds of support for affirmative-action preferences when similar measures were voted on in other states.

Kenneth Bickers, a political-science professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told the Chronicle: “This election brought out people who in most typical elections wouldn’t be voting.”

For his part, Connerly told the newspaper: “If the vote was held tomorrow with no Obama money and no Obama on the ballot, we’d win, 60 to 40."

A similar measure easily passed with nearly 58 percent of the vote in Nebraska, which remained solidly red as 57 percent of its voters backed McCain.

Connerly's opponents managed to keep such measures off the ballot in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, through concerted efforts to block his petition-gathering efforts and to challenge the legitimacy of the petitions he submitted. He told the Chronicle he already has a new effort underway to get such a measure on the Missouri ballot, in 2010. He said he also may give Arizona and Colorado another shot down the road.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Report: Disadvantaged College Students Least Likely to Be Exposed to Best Education Practices

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has issued a report concluding that the students most likely to benefit from several highly effective educational practices--those who are black, Hispanic, and "first generation"--are the least likely to be exposed to such practices while in college.

The report, discussed here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, notes that while 57 percent of white students have internships their employers view as highly desirable, only 46 percent of black and Hispanic students have comparable internship experiences. And while 36 percent of seniors whose parents had gone to college say they had to complete a capstone course or project integrating and applying what they have learned, just 29 percent of first-generation college students report having a capstone assignment. The lower a student's achievement levels when beginning college, the report says, the greater benefit he will get from the practices it describes.

Carol Geary Schneider, AACU's president, says the research contained in the new report shows that "we know what works, but we just aren't providing it to all students who could benefit."

Only 17 percent of all college freshmen take part in "learning communities," in which they take two or more linked courses together, even though involvement in such groups has been shown to improve retention, the report says. Just 19 percent of college seniors report having worked with a faculty member on a research project, even though students who have had such an experience report educational benefits such as a greater capacity for deep, integrative learning.

The author of the report is George D. Kuh, director of Indiana University's Center for Postsecondary Research.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hear Peter Schmidt Interviewed by the San Diego Union Tribune

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt was extensively interviewed by Chris Reed, an editorial writer for the San Diego Union Tribune, in September. A recording of the interview has now been posted online here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Efforts to Help Black Males Focus on the Positive

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt extensively documents pragmatic, research-based efforts to help black males succeed in college in a new article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article does not gloss over the educational problems of black boys and men. It notes that black males graduate from high school and attend and complete college at disproportionately low rates and that black men are outnumbered by black women in colleges by a ratio nearly two to one, the highest level of gender imbalance of any racial or ethnic group. It cites a recent analysis by Shaun R. Harper, an assistant professor of higher-education management at the University of Pennsylvania, finding that fewer than a third of black men who enter four-year colleges as freshmen graduate within six years. Tellingly, Sterling H. Hudson III, dean of admissions and records at Morehouse College, is quoted saying "We really have to scour the entire country to seat a freshman class of 750 to 800 students."

But the article also offers plenty of reason for hope, documenting several efforts to research programs billed as helping black males succeed and to replicate those that are found to be having an impact.

It notes, for example, that University System of Georgia reports that its African American Male Initiative helped increase the system's enrollment of black male students by nearly 25 percent from 2002 to 2007, and that efforts are underway to determine which of several programs established as part of the initiative are having an impact.

Meanwhile, the Student African American Brotherhood, a national group that promotes mentor relationships and has chapters at more than 100 two-year and four-year colleges, is evaluating its programs' effectiveness with the help of a $725,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education.

Mr. Harper of the University of Pennsylvania is involved in two separate ambitious undertakings. With a Lumnia grant he is overseeing a four-year effort by six yet-to-be named colleges to collaboratively work to improve the education outcomes for their black male students. On top of that, he has spent much of the past three years studying the attitudes and habits of more than 200 academically successful black male undergraduates at 42 public and private colleges.

One of the article's key conclusions is that efforts to help black males succeed in education institutions need to be mindful of the importance of support from their homes. It cites research by Mr. Harper and by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, showing that most academically successful black males share a common background trait: parents who consistently express high expectations.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Public Law Schools in Arizona and Nebraska Accused of Bias Against White Applicants

The Center for Equal Opportunity has issued reports accusing the law schools of the Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Nebraska of systematically rejecting white applicants in favor of much weaker applicants from certain minority groups.

The center’s analysis of student data from the Arizona law schools concludes that — controlling for year of admission, test scores, grades, state residency, and sex — the odds ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at Arizona State’s law school exceeds 1,100 to 1, while the ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at the University of Arizona’s school exceeds 250 to 1. (More details are available here on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog.) The center's analysis of data from the Nebraska law school, discussed in more detail here, says the odds favoring black applicants to the law school over white applicants with the same academic profiles are 442 to 1.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Peter Schmidt in USA Today: The Affirmative Action "Wedge" Splits the GOP, Too

When John McCain voiced opposition to affirmative action preferences last summer in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the conventional wisdom among many pundits was that he was bringing up a wedge issue long used to divide Democrats along racial lines.

In an analysis recently published in USA Today, Peter Schmidt, the author of Color and Money, makes the case that the affirmative action issue divides Republicans as well--enough so to discourage the McCain campaign from drawing much attention to his stand.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Did Elite College Lacrosse Contribute to Our Economic Crisis?

One of the key findings of Color and Money is that selective colleges serve as a sorting machine, playing a key role in determining who rises to positions of leadership and makes big bucks in places such as Wall Street. In examining the inefficiencies of that sorting machine, Color and Money cites a wealth of research showing how selective colleges lower the bar for students who have cash or connections or can play a sport well. Left largely unexplored by the book is the question of what mayhem can result when elite college degrees are conferred upon people who really are not very bright, helping them go on to land jobs where they can do things like, well, make decisions that will profoundly effect our economy and help determine whether our retirement funds will grow or disappear.

With our economy being described as teetering on disaster, it is instructive, therefore, to read this Wall Street Journal article, passed along by an appreciative and alert Color and Money reader. It describes how many major Wall Street investment firms, including Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, maintain their own lacrosse teams and are happy to recruit young men skilled in the sport. It cites the old joke "the only way to get a job on Wall Street is to have high test scores or play lacrosse," suggesting that skill in the sport not only opens the doors of selective colleges, but the doors of firms that recruit employees from them.

Given how much investment bankers make, one suspects that Wall Street lacrosse players have plenty of cash on hand should they choose to hire strippers for their team parties.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Feds to Colleges: Don't Consider Applicants' Race Unless Diversity Is "Essential" to Your Mission

As discussed in depth here on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has sent colleges a letter telling them they may not consider race in admissions unless it is “essential” to their “mission and stated goals.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has responded by accusing the federal government of overstating the limitations placed on race-conscious admissions policies by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2003 rulings involving the University of Michigan's chief undergraduate program and law school. “There is no reason for such clarification at this time,” a statement issued by the group says. “Rather, it seems that more than five years after those decisions, OCR is issuing this letter to further its efforts to subvert and give unnecessary pause to higher-education institutions that are pursuing a racially diverse student population in a constitutional manner."

For their part, few college lawyers have said much in protest of the new federal guidance, which they generally see as reflecting their own interpretation of the Supreme Court's rulings.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Congressional Caucus To Advocate for Colleges Serving Black Students

More than two dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives have banded together in a new caucus to promote the interests of historically black colleges and universities and other higher-education institutions classified as predominantly black. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat of Texas, says she and two colleagues, Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a Democrat, and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, a Republican, founded the group “in order to create a bipartisan dialogue in Congress that will focus on the legislative priorities of our nation’s HBCU’s.” Full Chronicle of Higher Education news blog coverage of this development is available here. The new effort was announced this month at a breakfast staged by the United Negro College Fund.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Researchers Sue California Bar for Data on Law School Graduates

Two researchers who question the benefits of affirmative action are asking the California Supreme Court to force that state’s bar to release years of data showing how law-school graduates of different races and ethnicities perform on their bar exams. The lead plaintiff in the suit, filed last month, is Richard H. Sander, a professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles who has already produced controversial research concluding that race-conscious admissions policies hurt many black law students and lawyers, by setting them up to perform poorly in their chosen field. Full Chronicle of Higher Education blog coverage of the suit is available here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Study Finds Blacks, Hispanics, Women Take Longer to Earn Doctorates

A new report from the Council of Graduate Schools suggests that blacks, Hispanics, and women are less likely to earn their PhDs partly because they end up taking longer to get through doctoral programs.

While 23 percent of whites or Asian Americans who earned doctorates within 10 years did so after the seventh year in doctoral programs, 27 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics who earned doctorates within a seven-year period.

Women are three percentage points less likely than men to complete their doctorates than men in 10 years, but the gap would be even wider if not for women's persistence in such programs. Six years into such programs, women are nine percentage points less likely to have earned their PhDs. The gap narrows as women stick it out and finish sometime after the seven-year mark.

William B. Russel, dean of Princeton University's Graduate School, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that a disproportionate share of minority students enter doctoral programs academically and, in some cases, culturally unprepared for the demands that will be placed on them, causing them to fall behind early on.

Pamela J. Benoit, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Missouri at Columbia, told the newspaper that the report's findings highlight the need for student-retention efforts to take into account where students are in their doctoral studies. "There is a real difference between issues that have to do with early attrition and late attrition," she said. Students who drop out of such programs early on may do so because they chose the wrong programs or lacked access to strong mentors, while students who abandon their quest for a doctorate late in the process often do so because of some conflict with a faculty adviser or a dissertation committee.

The report is titled Ph.D. Completion and Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Demographic Data From the Ph.D. Completion Project. A Chronicle of Higher Education article on it is available to Chronicle subscribers here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Election Year Reality Check: Here's a Formula for Measuring the Political Clout of the Rich

We sometimes hear people lament that our federal government does not care much about the little guy, that a rich man’s vote seems to carry a lot more weight than a poor man’s. Candidates for Congress and the presidency often claim they will look out for ordinary Americans, but, once in office, they are almost always accused of catering to the mansion-and-Mercedes crowd.

Are complaints that the rich rule the nation the product of excessive cynicism? How much truth is there to them?

Martin Gilens, an associate professor of politics at Princeton University, sought to find out in a study first released as a working paper in August 2004 and later published in the Public Opinion Quarterly. He looked at the views Americans expressed toward various possible changes in federal policy in surveys conducted from 1992 and 1998 and checked whether the federal government ended up heeding the survey respondents’ wishes. He then broke down the results by income group, focusing his attention mainly on those whose incomes were at the 10th percentile (meaning they had less money than about nine out of ten Americans), those at the 90th percentile (who had more money than about nine out of ten), and those who were squarely in the middle, at the 50th percentile.

In aggregate, Gilens found, a policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people with incomes in the 10th through 50th percentile was about twice as likely to be implemented as a policy that was overwhelmingly opposed by them. A policy that was overwhelmingly favored by people at the 90th percentile was, by comparison, four times as likely to be implemented as a policy that they overwhelmingly opposed.

It’s wrong, however, to look at such numbers and conclude that the wealthy had about twice as much clout as those who are working- or solidly middle-class. That’s because on many questions—such as whether the federal budget should be balanced—both the rich and the poor held very similar views. It’s entirely possible that the government was carrying out the wishes of the poor simply because the rich wanted the same thing.

To get a clearer picture of which income groups had how much clout, Gilens looked at about 300 survey questions dealing with areas of substantial disagreement between the wealthy and poor. They included, for example, questions such as whether the government should enter free trade pacts like NAFTA, and whether it should cut capital gains and inheritance taxes. On such questions, Gilens found, the government’s actions were strongly correlated with the desires of the wealthy, but largely ignored the views of both the poor and middle class. A policy strongly supported by the wealthy was six times as likely to be implemented as a policy that the wealthy strongly opposed. A policy strongly supported by middle-income Americans was only 1.3 times as likely to be implemented as a policy they strongly opposed, and the views of the poor appeared to have almost no bearing on the government’s decisions at all.

Of course, it was possible something besides money was at work. Because both wealthy people and key decision-makers in government tend to be highly educated, maybe what they had in common was being smart and well-informed. But when Gilens tweaked his analysis to compare the highly educated of every income group, he found that money, in itself, still played a key role in determining whether people’s wishes were heard.

Gilens says the key advantage the wealthy have in shaping policy is the wherewithal to donate to parties, candidates, and interest organization. One might wonder, however, if the vast personal wealth of many in top positions in government also plays a role, and the picture would be different if more lower- and middle-income Americans stood a chance of rising to positions of power.

Gilens writes: “There has never been a democratic society in which citizens’ influence over government policy was unrelated to their financial resources. In this sense, the difference between democracy and plutocracy is one of degree. But, by this same token, a government that is democratic in form but is in practice only responsive to its most affluent citizens is a democracy in name only.”

A footnote of interest to readers of Color and Money: Gilens found that the poor were more likely to support affirmative action than the wealthy. The finding, he says, is not simply a reflection of the fact that black people are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the economic ladder. Other studies have found that poor white people are more likely to support affirmative action than people who are white and wealthy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ballot Measures to Ban Preferences Certified in Nebraska, Rejected in Arizona

As discussed in depth here on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, Arizona's secretary of state has decided that the backers of a proposed ballot measure curtailing the use of affirmative-action preferences have failed to gather enough valid petition signatures to get it on the ballot. The campaign on behalf of the measure is combing through the rejected signatures to try to find enough good ones to challenge the state official's decision.

Meanwhile, Nebraska's secretary of state has determined that the campaign on behalf of such a measure in his state has indeed gathered enough valid signatures for it to be on the ballot in November.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Barack Obama Praised for Nuance in His Views on Affirmative Action

As discussed by Peter Schmidt here on the Chronicle of Higher Education Campaign U blog, Barack Obama has been winning praise from both the right and the left for his willingness to inject the issue of class into the affirmative action debate. Among those giving him credit for raising the level of the debate are the anti-affirmative-action crusader Ward Connerly and John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

On the Republican side, John McCain has declared his support for a proposed Arizona ballot measure that would ban the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies. But, in explaining his position, he has said he is opposed to "quotas", which the Supreme Court took off the table 30 years ago. As Color and Money makes abundantly clear, an awful lot has happened since that time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Watch Peter Schmidt on C-Span's Book TV

C-Span's Book TV interviewed Peter Schmidt last fall at the National Press Club's book fair. C-Span now has the interview posted in its video archives, available for viewing here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Learning Communities" Found to Help Disadvantaged Students

A recently published study says community-college students who are low-income and academically unprepared appear to benefit from being placed in effective "learning communities" where they take classes together and can give each other support.

Two Syracuse University-based researchers--Cathy McHugh Engstrom, an associate professor of higher education, and Vincent Tinto, a professor of education--conducted the study by surveying and tracking the progress of students at 13 community colleges around the nation. They compared 1,600 low-income and unprepared freshmen who been placed in learning communities, taking remedial classes together, with nearly 2,300 who had not been placed in such groups.

In an article published in the journal Opportunity Matters the two researchers say they found that the learning-community students were more likely than the others to report feeling engaged in their studies, and were more positive than the others in their perceptions of how much encouragement they received on their campus and how much they had intellectually progressed.

The researchers caution in their article that the learning-community programs they studied were by no means representative of all such programs. To be included in the study, the programs had to focus on teaching basic skills and had to serve the full spectrum of students widely regarded as "at risk," including those who had low incomes, or were members of minority groups, immigrants, or members of the first generation of their families to attend college. Perhaps more importantly, all of the community colleges involved had previously gathered some evidence demonstrating that the programs on their campuses were effective in helping academically unprepared students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education offers more details on the study, as well as similar research dealing with four-year colleges, here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New Report Looks at How Lack of Accumulated Wealth Hurts Black Families

A new report from the Center for American Progress suggests that the United States' black population has much less upward economic mobility than its white population largely because it has more trouble accumulating wealth from one generation to the next..

Much other research on economic mobility has focused on income, but that's only part of the picture. When it comes to dealing with dealing with economic setbacks such as the loss of a job, or making a long-term investment in your child's future by ponying up money for college tuition, it matters to have money in the bank or other forms of built up equity.

Moreover, wealth, education, and income all build on each other. The more money families have saved to finance tuition, the more likely children are to get a degree that will land them a lucrative job, enabling them to sock away money to send their kids off to college.

The center based its analysis on family-wealth data gathered from 1984 to 2003 as part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a national study that follows families and individuals over time. The researchers looked at people who were from 6 to 21 in 1984 and measured their family wealth then and their own wealth in the 1999-to-2003 period, when they were 24 to 40 years old.

As discussed in more depth in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, white children born to wealthy families are much more likely to become wealthy adults than black children born to such families, the center's analysis found. Among those born to families in the top fourth of society in terms of accumulated wealth, 55 percent of white children and 37 percent of black children grow up to be in the top fourth as adults. At the other end of wealth distribution, 35 percent of white children and 44 percent of black children born to families in the bottom fourth end up in the bottom fourth as adults, the report says.

Although the researchers did not specifically study what factors account for the black-white gap in wealth accumulation, their report suggests that discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas plays a role. The report also notes that black families in the top fourth tend to be in the bottom of that category, making it more likely, simply as a statistical matter, that they would fall into a lower bracket if they lost any wealth at all.

Similar conclusions were contained in a recent report on upward mobility published by the Economic Mobility Project—a collaborative involving the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the Urban Institute.

That report, by Bhashkar Mazumder, an economist, said the entire black-white gap in upward economic mobility can be explained by gaps in academic-test scores. Both black and white children with the same test scores experienced similar rates of upward mobility, and there was no racial gap in economic mobility among white and black people who had finished four years of college.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Count on Remedial Programs to Help Minority Students Catch Up

Two yet-unpublished studies hold bad news for anyone looking to college remedial programs to help minority students overcome whatever education deficits they may have.

Based on examinations of the long-term educational success of students who entered college with comparable levels of academic preparation, both studies found that going through remedial programs really does not make much of a difference. Students who were thrown straight into regular academic classes where they were likely to feel over their heads were about as likely as students in remedial classes to achieve key educational goals such as earning a four-year degree.

The studies, discussed here in a Chronicle of Higher Education article, focus on students who were at or near the cut-off for assignment to remedial education programs. In doing so, they avoid a conundrum that has undermined several other similar studies: Simply comparing the academic fates of all students in remedial programs with those of all students not in such programs is unfair to the programs themselves, because most members of the first group enter college in much worse shape than most members of the second.

Such a research approach had one key drawback: It prevented the researchers from determining whether remedial classes help those students who enter college so academically unprepared they stand virtually no chance of going straight into regular academic classes.

Moreover, because the studies use statewide data and base their conclusions on average performance levels for the different populations studied, they likely obscure substantial variation in the quality of remedial programs. Their conclusions that remedial programs do not make much difference is likely based on data from some programs that actually do help students, as well as some programs that do harm.

One of the studies, of nearly 100,000 Florida community-college students, was conducted by Bridget Terry Long, an associate professor of education and economics at Harvard University, and Juan Carlos Calcagno, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College. Among its findings, it concluded that students who took remedial classes ended up earning more credits over all, but not significantly more credits that were college-level.

The second study, based on Texas data, was conducted by Isaac McFarlin Jr., a research scientist at the University of Texas at Dallas and a visiting scholar at the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and Francisco (Paco) Martorell, an associate economist at the RAND Corporation. It did not find any evidence that students who took remedial reading or mathematics classes were more likely to earn a college degree than comparably prepared students who went straight into academic classes.

In a third study discussed in the same Chronicle article, Ms. Long and Eric P. Bettinger, an associate professor of economics at Case Western Reserve University, tracked the long-term progress of 28,000 Ohio college students and actually did find benefits from participation in remedial classes. Ms. Long told the Chronicle that the discrepancies between the Ohio study and the others may be due to the narrower subset of the population that the Ohio study covered. It was limited to traditional-age, full-time students who had taken the ACT and either attended a four-year college or indicated on their application to a two-year institution that they planned to complete a four-year degree. The bottom-line conclusions she derived from both of her studies, as well as the Florida research, was that the effect of college remedial programs on most students "is either slightly positive, slightly negative, or zero."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Campaigns for Preference Bans in Arizona and Nebraska Submit Petitions

As reported in some depth here on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the campaigns for ballot measures to curtail affirmative-action preferences in Arizona and Nebraska say they have gathered enough petition signatures to put the proposals before voters. If elections officials declare enough of the petition signatures valid, both states will likely join Colorado in voting this fall on measures barring public colleges and other state and local agencies from granting preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, and gender. As discussed extensively in the book Color and Money, similar measures have passed easily in California, Michigan, and Washington State.

Looking Back on Bakke

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt has commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Bakke affirmative action decision with two articles that have generated a lot of discussion in higher-education circles.

In an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "'Bakke' Set a New Path to Diversity for Colleges," he takes on the question of whether the Bakke ruling diverted colleges onto a dead-end path by forcing them to adopt a new rationale for race-conscious admissions policies--the purported educational benefits of diversity--that would prove difficult to defend in the legal and political arenas as time went on.

In an article published in The Wall Street Journal, "America's Universities Are Living a Diversity Lie," he describes how most colleges continue to have race-conscious admissions policies for reasons the Bakke decision was supposed to have taken off the table, such as a desire to promote social justice. He also discusses how colleges have yet to produce solid research conclusively demonstrating that such policies have educational benefits for all students.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

University of Michigan Avoids Any Big Diversity Drop from Preference Ban

Back in 2006, when Michiganders were voting on a proposal to ban public colleges and other state and local agencies from using affirmative-action preferences, the University of Michigan warned that the passage of such a measure would lead to a huge drop in black, Hispanic, and Native American enrollments on its Ann Arbor campus. The university issued similar warnings in previous years when its ability to use affirmative-action preferences was being challenged in court.

Preliminary admissions numbers for the coming fall recently released by U of M show that such predictions have not come true. In the first full admissions cycle after it was precluded from considering applicants' race, the share of its incoming freshman class that is black, Hispanic, or Native American fell from 10.85 percent to 10.47 percent--a decline, yes, but small enough to go largely unnoticed.

A statement issued by the university described several steps it had taken to try to maintain racial and ethnic diversity. Its undergraduate-admissions office hired additional employees, expanded its hours of operation, and used Descriptor PLUS, a geodemographic search tool developed by the College Board, to identify high schools and neighborhoods that are underrepresented on its campus. The university also stepped up its outreach in communities such as Detroit. (See full Chronicle of Higher Education blog coverage, with a link to the university's statement, here.)

Given that the University of Michigan's enrollment has never been as racially diverse as the state it serves, it's worth asking why Michigan did not take such steps earlier. As the book Color and Money discusses in depth, it often has taken the shock to the system delivered by ban on affirmative-action preferences to get colleges to get serious about finding workable alternatives. When they do get serious, the workable alternatives suddenly appear.

Special News Bulletin: Not All Asian Americans Are Alike!!!

A report released this month by a collaborative involving the College Board and two New York University institutes tells the world what just about anyone who reads a newspaper or even leaves their house has known for decades: the stereotype of Asian Americans as the "model minority" is horribly simplistic. While some segments of the Asian American population, such as those whose families came over from Japan or India, are doing incredibly well in educational and economic terms, others, such as Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Americans, are struggling with low education levels and high levels of poverty.

The report offers valuable demographic information about various segments of the Asian American population, but it is also missing a few things. It says little about how colleges tend to lump all Asian American populations together--by giving them just one "Asian American" box to check on applications--and then, often, hold them to admissions standards that are every bit as high as, if not higher than, those applied to white students. In its discussion of affirmative action, the report made no reference to a recent study (discussed here) that found Asian American enrollments rose at several elite public universities after they were barred from considering applicants' race.

Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of the report is available to subscribers here.

A Dissident Voice Roils a Disney World Diversity Conference

This year's National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education witnessed some excitement beyond what was promised by its locale, Disney World.

One of the nation's leading proponents of diversity in higher education, Evelyn Hu-DeHart, director of Brown University's Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, delivered a speech taking conference attendees to task for not doing more to advocate for black, Hispanic, and Native American students and faculty members. She went so far as to suggest that colleges let people attend this attend this annual conference—typically held in family-friendly tourist destinations—to reward them for not making waves.

Calling herself "a hard-nosed critic from the inside," Ms. Hu-DeHart said, "Let's face it: Diversity has created jobs for all of us. It is a career. It is an industry."

"We do what we need to keep our jobs," she said. "But as long as we keep doing our job the way we are told to do it, we are covering up for our universities."

"You all are covering up," she said. "You all are complicit in this."

She alleged that people who work in college offices dealing with diversity and minority issues help their institutions create the impression that they are far more concerned with diversity and equity than is actually the case. Her advice to the college chief diversity officers in the crowd? Quit and renegotate your contract to give you more power.

Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers can find full coverage of her speech here and an analytical story following up on the conference here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Federal Report Sheds Light on Hispanic Immigrants' Education Problems

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education finds that the nation's rapidly growing Hispanic population is having some serious academic problems, mainly due to the difficulties many Hispanic immigrants are having in assimilating.

As of 2007, just 34 percent of the nation's Hispanic population in the 25-to-29 age bracket had completed at least some college, compared with 66 percent of white and 50 percent of black U.S. residents in the same age group, the report found. Although Hispanic people have made some gains in this area since the early 1970s, their progress has been slower than that of other groups, so that gaps between white and Hispanic students have widened.

Where the report differentiates between native and foreign-born Hispanics, its findings make clear that many of the educational problems being broadly attributed to the Hispanic population are mainly the problems of Hispanic immigrants. In looking at the Hispanic population in the 16-to-24 age range, for example, the report finds that 12 percent of those born here, and 36 percent of those born abroad, have left high school with neither a diploma or GED.

Hispanics born outside the United States account for 7 percent of the nation's 16- to 24-year-old population, but they make up 28 percent of all U.S. residents in that age group who are not enrolled in high school and have not earned a high-school diploma.

Monday, May 19, 2008

High-School Exit Tests Don't Boost Academic Performance, Study Says

Nearly half of the states require students to pass a test to graduate from high-school, based on the assumption that students should demonstrate some basic level of academic ability if their diplomas are to mean anything.

But, as reported here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a new study of the impact of exit tests on student achievement suggests that being able to pass them does not really say much. The reason? Those states that adopted fairly tough tests soon found themselves besieged by the angry parents of children who did not pass, and responded by making the tests a lot easier. Other states felt no need to lower the bar because they had not set it very high in the first place.

One consequence of such actions is that the exit tests do little to drive schools to improve student achievement. When it comes to their scores on federal reading and math tests, students in states with high-school exit exams have not performed any better over time than those students who live in states without them.

Given that many of the students who fail the exit tests drop out of high school without ever getting their diplomas, the authors question whether the social benefits offered by the tests outweigh the costs.

The authors of the study, the results of which have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Educational Policy, are Eric Grodsky, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Davis, Demetra Kalogrides, a graduate student in sociology at that campus, and John Robert Warren, an associate professor of sociology and a director of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

In a separate study published in January in the journal Sociology of Education, Grodsky, Warren, and Jennifer C. Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University at Bloomington, found that people who earned their diplomas in states with high-school exit tests did not earn higher incomes than people who earned their diplomas elsewhere, and were no more likely to complete college or be employed.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Report Says Improving Black College Graduation Rates is Mainly a Matter of Commitment

Colleges already know the way to close gaps in black and white graduation rates, but most continue to lack the will to bring the necessary educational improvements about, according to a report recently released by Education Sector, a Washington-based research group.

"While more research in this area is certainly needed, the biggest challenge in better serving minority college students is not creating new knowledge about how to help them; it is creating new incentives for institutional leaders to act on the knowledge that already exists," says the report, written by Kevin Carey, Education Sector's research and policy manager.

"If there is a single factor that seems to distinguish colleges and universities that have truly made a difference on behalf of minority students, it is attention," the report says. "Successful colleges pay attention to graduation rates. They monitor year-to-year change, study the impact of different interventions on student outcomes, break down the numbers among different student populations, and continuously ask themselves how they could improve."

The report identifies several institutions--including Florida State University and the University of Alabama--where black students are at least as likely as their white peers to earn degrees in a timely manner. It says nothing is preventing other colleges from adopting the strategies such institutions have used to great effect, such as aggressively intervening to help students who run into trouble in the beginning of their freshman year and placing students in "learning communities" where they offer each other support while taking courses together.

Nationally, black students at four-year colleges have a six-year graduation rate that is about 20 percentage points lower than the six-year graduation rate for white students.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article summarizing the report's key findings is available to subscribers here.

Color and Money Author Wins National Award for Coverage of Minority Issues

Peter Schmidt, the author of Color and Money, has won a prestigious national award for his coverage of minority issues as a senior writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lincoln University, a historically black institution located in Missouri, bestowed a Unity Award for education reporting on Schmidt for a series of stories on affirmative action at colleges. Lincoln University annually confers its Unity Awards in Media on journalists to honor them for outstanding coverage of issues affecting minority groups and people with disabilities.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ward Connerly's "Super Tuesday" Campaign Suffers Another Setback

Just a few months ago, the prominent affirmative-action critic Ward Connerly seemed confident that he could get five states to vote this November on ballot measures barring public colleges and other state and local agencies from granting preferences based on race, ethnicity, or gender.

As of this week, however, the best result he can hope for is to score wins in three.

On Sunday, his campaign organization in Missouri conceded that it would not be able to meet a deadline for submitting enough petition signatures to get proposed ban on the November ballot in that state. With his Oklahoma organization having similarly abandoned its efforts in that state last month, Mr. Connerly is now left with three remaining targets: Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska.

The campaign organization in Colorado has already submitted its petition signatures for counting. Mr. Connerly says he remains confident he will get measures on the ballot in Arizona and Nebraska, and he has vowed to continue his fight in Missouri and Oklahoma in the coming years.

Political analysts had predicted the measures would pass easily in all five of the states--provided, that is, they got on the ballot. As discussed in early blog postings here, however, Mr. Connerly ran into a tight deadline for gathering signatures in Oklahoma, and his Missouri campaign ran into massive resistance from state officials who sought to alter the measure's wording and local pro-affirmative-action activists who hit the streets to insert themselves between those circulating the petitions and potential signers.

A full Chronicle of Higher Education story on the latest Missouri development is available to its subscribers here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Twenty-fifth Anniversary of "A Nation at Risk" Brings Reports Bemoaning Lack of Progress

Education historians say the event most responsible for the birth of the nation's current reform movement was the 1983 publication of the report "A Nation at Risk." Issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education--a panel appointed by the education secretary at the time, Terrel H. Bell--the report attracted widespread media attention and inspired countless school-improvement efforts with its warning that the United States is headed for deep trouble as a result of the mediocre performance of its public schools and their students.

Anyone born when "A Nation at Risk" was issued is now about old enough to have earned an advanced degree. But two new reports released this month, on the 25th anniversary of the issuance of that landmark study, suggest that it is far more likely that anyone born then dropped out of college or never even made it through high school.

The first of the two reports, titled "A Stagnant Nation" and published by the advocacy group Strong American Schools, concludes that efforts to carry out the recommendation of "A Nation at Risk" have been "stymied by organized special interests and political inertia." (The Chronicle of Higher Education blog has a summary followed by lively comments from readers available here.)

The second of the two reports, written by a long list of prominent education experts and titled "Democracy at Risk," calls on the federal government to greatly increase its spending on teacher training, education research, and other efforts to improve schools. As noted in a Chronicle summary of its key findings, it says: “For an annual investment of $4-billion, or less than what we are currently spending per week in Iraq, the nation could underwrite the high-quality preparation of 40,000 teachers annually (enough to fill all the vacancies that are filled by unprepared teachers each year), seed 100 top-quality urban teacher-education programs, ensure mentors for every new teacher hired each year, provide incentives to bring expert teachers into high-need schools, and dramatically improve professional-learning opportunities for teachers and principals."

Both new reports offer food for thought to interested in improving college access.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Journal of American Professoriate Gives Color and Money a Favorable Review

Color and Money has just been given a positive review in the latest issue of Academe, the magazine published by the American Association of University Professors.

The reviewer--Paula M. Krebs, the magazine's editor--finds some flaws in the book but reaches this bottom-line conclusion: "Peter Schmidt’s nuanced account of the class and race politics behind how affirmative action became a way to provide 'diversity' experiences for privileged white students is sobering for anyone who cares about educational access in the United States for students who are not both white and rich."

The full review is available here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton Ducks Discussion of Affirmative-Action Preferences in Philly Debate

Hillary Clinton has spoken out strongly in favor of race-conscious college admissions policies in the past. When the University of Michigan affirmative action cases came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, she went so far as to sign on to a friend-of-the-court brief that--even in the eyes of education researchers who support race-conscious admissions--greatly overstated what research says about the educational benefits of such policies.

When the topic of race-conscious admissions policies came up in the April 16 Democratic debate in Philadelphia, however, she let Barack Obama take a few steps out on that limb and then refused to follow. He stated a position that is actually more centrist than the ones she has expressed in the past--saying that some affluent young black people, such as his own children, perhaps should not be given extra consideration. Ms. Clinton then positioned herself to the right of him by giving an answer Ward Connerly could endorse, refusing to talk about affirmative-action preferences at all and instead focusing on the need to make college accessible for all Americans.

As Color and Money discusses at length, the Clintons have long had an ambivalent relationship with affirmative action and the broader cause of racial integration. When they first moved to Washington DC, they refused to enroll their daughter Chelsea in the heavily black and Hispanic DC public schools, choosing instead to enroll her in a highly exclusive private school, Sidwell Friends. In winning election in 1992, Bill Clinton did not reiterate the Democratic Party's support for affirmative action. When up for reelection in 1996, he avoided expressing opposition to the Proposition 209 ban on affirmative-action preferences before voters in California, for fear of losing that state. At the same time, however, Bill Clinton appointed a staunch advocate of affirmative action and integration, Norma Cantu, to head the Education Department's civil-rights office. And, based on a sweeping review of federal affirmative action policies, he famously declared that the federal government's approach to affirmative action should be "mend it, don't end it."

As described in this Chronicle of Higher Education blog post on the Philadelphia debate, Hillary Clinton had been a fairly strong supporter of the use of racial preferences by colleges prior to the Pennsylvania contest, which is expected to hinge on the votes of blue-collar whites. It will be interesting to see how she answers questions on the subject if she stays in the race through the upcoming primaries in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

University of Texas at Austin Sued for Reviving Race-Conscious Admissions

A federal lawsuit filed April 7 alleges that the University of Texas at Austin cannot legally return to using race-conscious admissions because it had found alternatives that producted satisfactory levels of diversity on campus.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a white woman who applied in January for undergraduate admission at UT-Austin and was rejected despite having a 3.59 GPA, solid SAT scores, and a record of participation in extracurricular activities in high school. She is being represented by the Project on Fair Representation, a Washington-based organization that has been pushing the Bush administration to weigh in against UT-Austin's policy.

As discussed at length in Color and Money, Texas public universities were barred from considering race and ethnicity under a 1996 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case Hopwood v. Texas. Black and Hispanic enrollments plunged, but then seemed--at least for the most part--to rebound after lawmakers passed a measure guaranteeing students in the top 10 percent of their high school class admission to the Texas public university of their choice.

In 2003, the Supreme Court essentially invalidated the Hopwood decision by upholding the use of race-conscious admissions in its ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, involving the University of Michigan law school. But in that ruling, the Supreme Court also held that colleges must consider alternative ways of achieving diversity on campus before they resort to using affirmative-action preferences.

UT-Austin returned to using race-conscious admissions in 2005. The new lawsuit against it probably will hinge largely on the question of whether the alternatives to preferences used by the university in the wake of Hopwood produced sufficient levels of diversity.

"The top-10-percent plan has proven more successful in achieving diversity than did race-based affirmative action," Edward J. Blum, the director of the Project on Fair Representation, argued in a Chronicle of Higher Education interview. "Because of that, we believe the University of Texas is foreclosed from even considering a student's race."

Oklahoma Anti-Preference Measure is Scuttled

Foes of affirmative-action preferences have quietly abandoned their effort to get Oklahomans to vote to bar public colleges and other state and local agencies from considering race and ethnicity in admissions, employment, and contracting decisions.

As summarized here on The Chronicle of Higher Education blog and reportered here at greater length in Tulsa World, the campaign on behalf of the measure, the Oklahoma Civil Rights Initiative, filed a motion in the state Supreme Court on April 4 asking that it be withdrawn from consideration.

The campaign needed 138,970 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Largely because Oklahoma law gives referendum advocates just a 90-day window for circulating such petitions, the advocates of the Oklahoma measure gathered just 141,184 signatures, leaving them little buffer room if significant numbers are challenged. Oklahoma's Secretary of State subsequently spotted large numbers of duplicate or otherwise suspicious signatures on the ballot measure, suggesting that it might be in trouble if someone combed through it carefully.

The motion filed by the campaign says: "Based of the number of signatures delivered to the Secretary of State, the validity rate for the signatures would need to be in excess of 90 percent, which is a statistical impossibility given historical validity rates and the limited time to verify the signatures."

The abandonment of the Oklahoma campaign is not expected to have a significant impact on efforts to put similar measures before voters in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Parental Income Plays Big Role in Determining Payoff from a Bachelor's Degree, Study Finds

Many studies have documented the long-term economic payoff from a bachelor's degree. But they have tended to lump such degree recipients together, comparing the average incomes of all people with bachelor's degrees to the average annual incomes of all people without them.

Reality is a lot more complicated than that. The truth is that the economic payoffs from a bachelor's degree vary greatly depending on parental wealth, according to study findings recently presented by Marvin A. Titus, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, at the American Educational Research Association conference in New York.

The study is discussed in greater depth here on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog. It's bottom line is that, while people from poor backgrounds greatly increase their earning potential by getting a bachelor's, they're unlikely to earn more than people from wealthy backgrounds, including those who never went to college.

Titus calls for more research on how people acquire the "social capital" that keeps the rich ahead of the poor and influences long-term earnings.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Education Researchers Say Trends Such as Increased Reliance on the SAT Work Against Minorities

The United States appears to be gaining little ground when it comes to closing the education gaps that leave selective colleges relying on race-conscious admissions policies to prop up minority enrollments, according to a panel of scholars who presented research findings in New York last month at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference.

Among the studies discussed at the symposium was an analysis of College Board data which concluded that elite colleges have undermined their own efforts to promote diversity in recent decades by giving much more weight to applicants' SAT scores. The authors of the study--Catherine L. Horn, an assistant professor of educational leadership and cultural studies at the University of Houston, and John T. Yun, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Santa Barbara--found that the share of seats at top colleges going to students with exceptionally high SAT scores has increased dramatically in the past 20 years. Although the number of students taking the test and posting high scores has grown, the researchers say the bigger driving force behind the trend they document is a desire by colleges to improve their rankings in college guides--by U.S. News and others--that consider the average SAT scores of colleges' students in judging selectivity.

Among other researchers who spoke at the symposium, Michal Kurlaender, an assistant professor of education at the University of California at Davis, presented an analysis of federal data showing that the share of black and Hispanic college students who end up earning bachelor's degrees by age 30 actually declined over the past three decades. Donald E. Heller, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University and director of its Center for the Study of Higher Education, presented an analysis showing that only a few states notable for their small minority populations have managed to close the gaps between the races in terms of high-school and college completion.

The bottom-line question that the symposium tackled was whether Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was correct in predicting, in the court's 2003 Grutter decision dealing with college affirmative action, that the educational gaps between the races will be eliminated in 25 years (or by 2028). The consensus among the researchers here: No chance.

A Chronicle of Higher Education article discussing the symposium in more detail is available to subscribers of the newspaper here. All of the research presented at the symposium is included in a forthcoming book, Realizing Bakke's Legacy, being published by Stylus Publishing in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1978 decision Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Universities Criticized for TV Spots Depicting Whiteness of Campuses

A paper presented last week at an annual national conference of education researchers alleges that the promotional TV spots produced by universities depict their campuses as unwelcoming to minorities.

Brian Bourke and Michael S. Harris, both assistant professors of higher education at the University of Alabama, analyzed the 30-second television spots that 43 colleges aired during the 2006-7 Bowl Championship Series. Their paper, presented in New York last week at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, concluded that the overwhelming majority of the students an alumni depicted in the ads were white, and that the ads therefore send potential minority applicants the message that they will be tokens on campus.

A more in-depth discussion of the researchers' findings is available here on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog. Noted by the blog item--and several of the readers who posted comments in response to it--is the tricky position that overwhelmingly white colleges find themselves in in producting such spots. Showing how few minority students are on their campus may indeed discourage minority students from applying, but if their ads exaggerate how much diversity is found on their campus they can be accused of dishonesty. Many minority students don't appreciate finding out after they enroll at a college that the place is not nearly as diverse as its recruitment materials led them to believe it would be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Michigan's Ban on Affirmative-Action Preferences Survives a Court Challenge

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Michigan's Proposal 2 ban on the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state and local agencies.

Despite being perceived as liberal and being tough on proponents of the ban in his court proceedings, U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson rejected each of the arguments made against Proposal 2, including the assertion that it targeted minorities.

One of the key organizations being the legal challenge, By Any Means Necessary, has vowed to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Michiganders passed Proposal 2 overwhelmingly in November 2006, with 58 percent of voters coming out in favor of it.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Honor from National Education Writers Association for Color and Money Author

Color and Money author Peter Schmidt has just received a national award from the Education Writers Association for an essay based on his book and published in The Boston Globe.

Schmidt received second prize in the category "Opinion-Circulation over 100,000" (for major daily newspapers) for his essay "At the elite colleges--dim white kids." The honor comes in the EWA's 2007 National Awards for Education Reporting.

Schmidt's analytical piece was e-mailed far and wide and had an enormous impact. It was highlighted in the popular news digest The Week and cited by The American Prospect blog TAPPED, a host of black-oriented blogs (including Jack and Jill Politics), the progressive blog CommonDreams.org, and a long list of Web sites and chat boards dealing with college admissions. It continues to influence the affirmative action debate with its conclusion that, on selective college campuses, whites students who gained admission solely through nonacademic preferences outnumber the black and Hispanic beneficiaries of affirmative-action preferences by a margin of about 2 to 1.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Report Warns Growing Education Gaps May Hurt Social Mobility

A new report commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts and written by Brookings Institution scholars warns that growing gaps in college access threaten social mobility in the United States. It says parental income and race and ethnicity appear to be playing an ever greater role in determining one's access to college and long-term financial prospects, with the education gap widening between whites and Asians on one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other. In recent years, just 11 percent of the children of America's poorest fifth have gone on to earn college degrees, compared to 53 percent of children from the top fifth. The report, "Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Economic Mobility in America," can be downloaded here.

Peter Schmidt in USA Today: "Asians, not whites, hurt most by race-conscious admissions"

Peter Schmidt has an article in the February 20 issue of USA Today discussing a recent study finding that it was Asian American, and not white, enrollments that rose substantially at five prestigious public universities after they were precluded from considering applicants' race or ethnicity. A more detailed discussion of the report, published in the journal InterActions, is available to Chronicle of Higher Education subscribers here. The report itself--by prominent education researchers David R. Colburn, Victor M. Yellen, and Charles E. Young--is available here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Campaigns Against Affirmative-Action Preferences Face Possible Setbacks in Michigan and Oklahoma

The crusade against affirmative-action preferences being led by Ward Connerly appears at risk of possible setbacks in Michigan and Oklahoma, although there is a good chance that any Michigan setback will only be temporary.

Michigan's Proposal 2 ban on affirmative-action preferences, passed by 58 percent of that state's voters in November 2006, seems somewhat likely to be ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson in the coming weeks or months. Not only did Judge Lawson previously issue a decision--later overturned--to temporarily block the enforcement of Proposal 2, he also has made several procedural calls against advocates of the measure in handling two lawsuits (later joined into one) seeking to have it overturned. Moreover, when Judge Lawson held a February 7 hearing on whether the cases should go to trial, both his line of questioning and the procedural calls he made suggested that advocates of Proposal 2 weren't exactly on his Valentine's Day shopping list. Throw all of these tea leaves together, and it's no big leap to read them as portending that Lawson will strike down Proposal 2 in a summary judgment (without holding a trial).

If Judge Lawson does issue a summary judgment ruling Proposal 2 unconstitutional, two developments are almost certain: An appeal of his ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the onset of headache-inducing confusion in Michigan as state agencies try to decide whether to comply with Proposal 2 while its legality remains up in the air.

One of the lawsuits challenging Proposal 2, filed by the NAACP and ACLU, argues that it violates the Equal Protection Clause by essentially walling off racial and ethnic minorities from receiving the same sorts of admissions preferences that public colleges give to other subsets of the population, such as military veterans or the children of alumni. The other lawsuit, filed by the group By Any Means Necessary, argues that, without affirmative action, college admissions criteria irremediably discriminate against black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants, so Proposal 2 has the effect of imposing a discriminatory system.

Judges on the Sixth Circuit have already expressed skepticism toward these arguments, concluding in a December 2006 ruling that they did not see any reason to forestall enforcement of Proposal 2 because they did not think the arguments made against it will prevail in the federal courts. And similar arguments were ultimately rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit--in a decision that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reconsider--in cases challenging California's Proposition 209, a 1996 ballot measure with language very similar to Proposal 2. So if Judge Lawson strikes down Proposal 2, the setback may well only be a temporary one.

The situation in Oklahoma is much different. There, officials are taking up a fairly simple question: whether the campaign on behalf of a proposed ban on affirmative-action preferences has enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot in November.

The campaign organization needed 138,970 valid signatures. And, partly because Oklahoma law allows only 90 days for such petition-gathering, it turned in fewer than it hoped. The 141,184 signatures that it submitted to state officials may seem like enough on the surface, but that total does not offer much in the way of a buffer. The invalidation of just 1.6 percent of their signatures could sink their campaign. On February 8, the Associated Press reported that Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage had told the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which is ultimately responsible for the signature count, that she had found many duplicate signatures and cases where dozens of signatures were listed as being at the same address.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Study Suggests "No Child Left Behind" May Push Minority Students to Leave High School

A Texas school accountability law that served as a model for the No Child Left Behind Act has had the effect of causing more students--especially blacks and Hispanics--to drop out of high school, a new study concludes.

The study, summarized here on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog, tracked students in a large urban Texas district over seven years and found that the state's school accountability law created incentives for high schools to let students drop out (or even take steps that might encourage them to do so). Because the law calls for schools to be rated based on their students' test scores, it enables schools to improve their ratings by letting many of their lowest-scoring students--who are disproportionately black, Hispanic, and low-income--walk out the door. It also creates incentives for school officials to hold students back a year, which generally results in improvements in their test scores but also strongly increases the likelihood they will drop out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Federal Government Investigates 16 New York Campuses' Efforts to Help Black Men

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has begun investigations of 16 campuses of the City University of New York system to determine whether they violating federal civil-rights laws in their efforts to help black men.

The investigations stem from a complaint filed in 2006 by a group called the New York Civil Rights Coalition, which alleged that the CUNY system was violating civil-rights laws by gearing offerings to members of a specific race.

According to the New Yori Civil Rights Coalition, the CUNY institutions under investigation are the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Baruch College, Brooklyn College, City College, Lehman College, the College of Staten Island, Medgar Evers College, Hostos Community College, Hunter College, Queens College, Queensborough Community College, York College, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, and the New York City College of Technology.

Additional details of the investigation are available on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog. The back-and-forth in the commentary field makes for lively reading as well.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Two New Studies Sharply Criticize Many Workplace Diversity Programs

Two new studies of workplace diversity programs say that many are ineffective or may actually hurt companies' efforts to hire and promote more minority members and women.

One of the studies--yet unpublished, but described in detail in a Washington Post article--analyzed 31 years' worth of data from 830 mid-sized to large workplaces and found that "the kind of diversity training exercises offered at most firms" were followed by a 7.5 percent drop in the number of women in management, a 10 percent drop in the number of black women in management, and a 12 percent drop in the number of black men in top positions. "Similar effects were seen for Latinos and Asians," the newspaper reported.

The study said that voluntary diversity training programs, which do not require employee participation and tend to be designed to promote some business goal, actually seemed to result in increased diversity in managerial ranks. The programs that were ineffective were the mandatory diversity training programs that many companies adopt out of fear of discrimination lawsuits. Alexandra Kalev, a Univerity of Arizona sociologist who headed up the research, told the newspaper that "forcing people to go through training creates a backlash against diversity."

A second study, by the Rand Corporation, says that many companies seem to look at diversity superficially--focusing on the numbers of people from one group or another in various positions--and fail to rethink how they do business so that their increased diversity makes them more productive and profitable and their employees happier.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Plans for Sweeping Study of Colleges' Admissions Preferences Are Met with Skepticism

About 30 professors and graduate students have formed a national consortium to study the short- and long-term effects of colleges' various admissions preferences on students who receive them.

The undertaking is called Project SEAPHE, with the acronym standing for Scale and Effect of Admissions Preferences in Higher Education. It will focus chiefly on affirmative-action preferences for minority students, but it also intends to examine the effects of the admissions preferences that colleges give other subsets of the applicant pool, such as athletes and the children of alumni.

The consortium's leaders say its researchers hold a wide variety of views toward affirmative action. Dozens of colleges and law schools have already provided the group with student data, generally in response to letters citing state freedom-of-information laws.

Some advocates of affirmative action have doubts about the consortium's neutrality and question whether its work will be objective. The consortium's leader, Richard H. Sander, a UCLA law professor whose work is described in Color and Money, has been widely attacked by affirmative-action proponents for his past research concluding that law schools' affirmative action policies may do minority students more harm than good by placing them in environments where they struggle academically. The consortium's efforts are being financed by the Searle Freedom Trust, a Washington-based foundation that has contributed generously to conservative groups such as the American Enterprise Institute.

An Chronicle of Higher Education article discussing Project SEAPHE in more depth is available here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Prominent Foes of Affirmative Action Get Behind Rudy Giuliani

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the presidency has picked up the support of some of the nation's most prominent foes of affirmative-action preferences. They include Ward Connerly, who has been named as one of Mr. Giuliani's at-large delegate candidates in the California Republican primaries, and lawyers Gerald Reynolds, Brian Jones, and Clint Bolick, all of whom have played leading roles in organizations opposed to such policies and now are part of part of Mr. Giuliani's team of education advisers. For his part, Mr. Connerly says he sees himself and Mr. Giuliani as largely on the same page on the affirmative action issue. Additional details are available here on The Chronicle of Higher Education blog in an article available to non-subscribers.

Court Hands a Key Victory to Campaign to Limit Affirmative Action in Missouri

A state court judge has given a major break to the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, the campaign organization for a proposed November 2008 ballot measure to bar public colleges and other state and local agencies there from using affirmative-action preferences. In a stunning rebuke to Missouri's secretary of state, Robin Carnahan, the judge has thrown out the summary language that Ms. Carnahan sought to place on the proposed ballot measure over its backers' objections. The secretary of state had summarized the proposed amendment as banning "affirmative-action programs designed to eliminate discrimination against, and improve opportunities for, women and minorities in public contracting, employment, and education"--language that its backers saw as calculated to turn voters against it. In a January 7 ruling, the state judge rewrote the summary language to say the measure would "ban state and local government affirmative-action programs that give preferential treatment in public contracting, employment, or education based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin." Ms. Carnahan has pledged to appeal the ruling, but, for now at least, the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative is gathering signatures to put the measure on the ballot using the language the judge drafted. Details of the judge's ruling, and other legal questions that it addressed, are available here in The Chronicle of Higher Education. See also this past entry on the Color and Money blog.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Medical Schools Diagnosed with a Rising Blue Blood Count

An analysis of medical-school enrollments published by the Association of American Medical Colleges says the share of their students from privileged backgrounds is growing. As reported on the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog, the share of their students from the wealthiest fifth of society rose from 50.8 percent in 2000 to 55.2 percent in 2005, the most recent year examined. Meanwhile, despite the medical schools' professed interest in promoting economic diversity in their enrollments, their share of entering students from the poorest fifth of society has remained well below 6 percent for nearly 20 years. Among the factors that the analysis blames for the growing lack of economic diversity at medical schools: student debt levels that have been rising faster than physician pay, and a similar lack of economic diversity at the undergraduate institutions from which medical schools draw their students.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Low-Income Enrollments Declining at Many Top Colleges

Enrollments of low-income students have undergone both short- and long-term declines at many prestigious universities and liberal arts colleges, according to an analysis of federal Pell Grant data published in the latest issue of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education and summarized here on The Chronicle of Higher Education news blog.

The analysis found that some institutions experienced declines in the share of their students receiving need-based Pell Grants even after launching widely publicized efforts to cover the full tuition costs of low-income students. “Contrary to what one might expect, it appears that there is no strong correlation between the generous new fiscal measures and success in bringing low-income students to the campus,” the Journal says. “The only sure conclusion is that money alone will not do the job.” It suggests that colleges take other steps, such as aggressive recruiting, to try to increase the share of their students who are low-income.

The Journal's analysis examined 30 top universities and 30 top liberal arts colleges. Confirming an observation made by Peter Schmidt in Color and Money, it shows that low-income students accounted for a rapidly rising share of the enrollments of the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles in the decade after those institutions were barred under state law from considering race in admissions. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor experienced a sharp decline in the share of its students who were low-income during the years in which if fought to keep its race-conscious admissions policies in place.