Before we begin today's post we wanted to write a short note on our method. As we did in our exploration of the transgender community in which we used facts and medical science to make our points, our discussion of affirmative action uses a data-rich and evidence-based approach to advance our arguments. We've kept things "sober and dispassionate" in the interest of promoting discussion.
In the early years of affirmative action it was enough to make theoretical arguments either for or against. Today we live in a world where a great deal of scholarly research and empirical evidence exists which overwhelmingly shows affirmative action does more harm than good.
So we encourage all those wishing to respond to us to not rely on emotion, but the facts, and in doing so provide solid evidence showing us where exactly we are wrong, as opposed to simply trying to disqualify us by throwing around false accusations of racism. Playing the race card and trying to disqualify one's opponents in this manner only harms true victims of racism. When the shepherd boy cries wolf too many times, he soon begins to be ignored.
We would also like for proponents of affirmative action to explain why it's okay to give race-based preferential treatment to one group over another, but then complain in other situations when race-based preferential treatment is used in a manner they believe discriminates against their own group.
Institutional racism and systems of discrimination like affirmative action are blights on our society and are harmful to everyone. In addition to violating the concept of equality and fair treatment, the most up-to-date research shows affirmative action actually harms the minorities it seeks to benefit.
Social science evidence now shows that while passed-over whites and Asians suffer (modestly and temporarily, in my view) from race-based affirmative action, the more seriously damaged victims of large racial preferences are the many good black and Hispanic students who are doomed to academic struggle, and damaged self-confidence, when put in direct competition with academically much-better-qualified students. Universities misleadingly assure these students that they will do well, while ignoring and seeking to suppress evidence showing the enormous size of their preferences and poor academic results. No university of which I am aware, for example, tells its racial-preference recruits that more than half of black students end up in the bottom twenty percent of their college classes and the bottom ten percent of their law school classes.
One the key lessons learned from research into post-collegiate income attainment is that one of the strongest predictors are the grades one receives in college. In other words, it's better to have high grades and be at the top of your class at a less prestigious institution than it is to be at the bottom while attending a more elite school. This information is found, interestingly enough, in a book in defense of affirmative action and which overlooks or willfully ignores the data to support the pro-affirmative action narrative, as described in this report by U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot . . .
For example, while Bowen and Bok are careful not to draw attention to it, their own figures show that one category of black men—those with SAT scores between 1000 and 1099—earn more if they attend Tier 2 schools rather than Tier 1 schools. Similarly, their figures show that black women with SAT scores between 1100 and 1199 earn more if they stay away from Tier 1 schools and attend Tier 2 schools instead. These students’ results show just the opposite of what Bowen and Bok claim they have proven.
Meanwhile, buried in Appendix D.5.4 and Appendix D.5.5 is a bombshell to which the authors seem wholly oblivious. The charts in these appendices contain a more sophisticated analysis that is barely mentioned in the text.
These charts attempt to tease out how various factors influence the subsequent earnings of African Americans who attended one of the 28 colleges or universities in the Mellon Foundation database. Included among these factors are several pre-college considerations: the socioeconomic status of the student’s family, SAT scores, and whether the student was in the top 10 percent of his high school class. Also included are several factors from the student’s college days: the selectivity of the college or university he attended; his major; whether his grades put him in the top third, middle third, or bottom third of the class; and whether he went on to earn a graduate or professional degree. The effect of each of these factors was measured.
The authors purport to show that, on average, attending a Tier 1 school rather than a Tier 3 school contributes to the income levels of both African-American men and African-American women. But something important appears just a few rows down: College grades generally contribute more. Again and again, through the different permutations of the analysis they conduct, the authors’ own figures show it.
Imagine two African-American males with the same SAT scores. Both were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and both come from middle-class families. Only their colleges are different. Bowen and Bok demonstrate convincingly that if the two have the same major in college and similar grades, the one who attended a Tier 1 school will earn about $17,365 more than the one who attended a Tier 3 school.
But what if they don’t have similar college grades? Bowen and Bok also show that if one of those students is in the top third of his college class and the other is in the bottom third of his, the former will earn an average of $34,089 more.
By the authors’ own calculations, therefore, it is better to be an African-American male at Penn State in the top third of the class than to be an African-American male at Princeton in the bottom third of the class. The increased earnings he gets from high grades are worth almost twice the increased earnings he gets from attending a Tier 1 school. And there’s more: The boost in earnings he would get for majoring in natural science as opposed to the humanities would be a whopping $49,537.
If one’s class rank and major were unrelated to the level of selectivity of one’s college, then it would be perfectly sensible for Bowen and Bok to celebrate the finding that, on average, black male students get an earnings boost from attending a Tier 1 school instead of a Tier 3 school. But they are not unrelated. For students who would not have been admitted but for racial preferences, the chances of earning grades in the top third of the class are exceedingly remote, and the chances of graduating with a degree in natural science are greatly reduced.
The only question is whether an African-American student who attends a Tier 1 school and winds up in the bottom third of the graduating class would likely have been in the top third of a Tier 3 school. The answer to that question, at least in many cases, is yes.
Consider, for example, an African-American male student with SAT scores of 1300 who just missed being in the top 10 percent of his high school class. He is a talented student by any ordinary measure. If he attends Pennsylvania State University, his SAT scores will put him exactly at the 75th percentile in the entering class of 2011 according to U.S. News & World Report. That would give him a very strong shot at earning grades in the top third. If he starts out intending to major in a natural science, there is an excellent chance that he will stick to it. If he enrolls at Princeton instead, his SAT scores will put him 90 points below the 25th percentile for that school, making it much more likely that his grades will be in the bottom third, possibly even the bottom third of the bottom third.
Similarly, figures in Appendix D.5.5 predict that the average African-American female with a combined SAT score of 1400 will earn more than $3,800 extra by attending the University of North Carolina if, as her SAT scores suggest she will, she graduates in the top third of her class rather than by attending Yale University if, as her scores suggest, she graduates in the bottom third. As an added bonus, if she has a desire to major in engineering, graduating with such a degree will earn her, on average, an additional $17,894 according to Bowen and Bok’s calculations. And she is much more likely to do that at UNC than at Yale.
In other words, affirmative action negatively impacts the incomes those who are preferentially admitted into elite universities for which their academic credentials suggest they are not adequately prepared. Of course, this problem affects all students who receive preferential treatment, to include legacies, athletes, children of the rich who are admitted for financial reasons, and international students whose parents can pay full tuition.
As we noted yesterday many of the institutions which practice affirmative action have attempted to mitigate the effects of mismatch by providing special educational programs for these students in the weeks prior to classes starting, in addition to financial, mentoring and tutoring opportunities not afforded to groups which don't receive affirmative action. The hope is students will "catch up" and close the gap thanks to some remedial instruction, tips on studying and test-taking, and lessons on how to write well, along with ongoing academic and personal support for the individual's entire collegiate experience.
Yet the research shows that despite these laudable efforts, the problems persist . . .
Recently, Duke University economists Peter Arcidiacono and Esteban Aucejo and Duke University sociologist Ken Spenner found evidence supporting the mismatch thesis when researching the major choices of undergraduates enrolled at Duke. In their article What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice, they found that black undergraduates were much less likely to persist with an entering goal of majoring in engineering, the natural sciences, or economics than white students were. Approximately 54 percent of black males switched out of these majors, while only 8 percent of white males did.
Once again, the problem was not lack of interest in science and engineering among black students: Before starting at Duke, more black students than whites indicated an initial interest in majoring in these subjects. Instead, the differences in attrition were best explained by entering academic credentials.
These authors also helped to dispel the common belief that beneficiaries of affirmative action catch up after their freshman years with their better-credentialed fellow students. What happens instead is that many transfer to majors where the academic competition is less intense and where students are graded on a more lenient curve. Their GPAs increase, but their standing relative to other students taking the same courses does not.
Again, the authors show that this effect is by no means confined to beneficiaries of affirmative action. White children and grandchildren of alumni who receive legacy preferences have the same experience, earning lower grades than white non-legacies at the end of their first year. While the gap narrows over time, it is only because legacy students also shift away from the natural sciences, engineering, and economics and toward the humanities and social sciences.
This helped the authors to respond to the argument that underrepresented minority students abandon science and engineering because they have no role models there or because they are somehow made to feel unwelcome. It is exceedingly unlikely that anti-legacy bias, lack of legacy role models on the faculty, or any other argument commonly advanced to explain racial disparities in science explains the legacies’ collective drift toward softer majors. If it is the wrong explanation for legacies, it is overwhelmingly likely to be the wrong explanation for underrepresented minorities as well.
The study created a firestorm at Duke, where the administration, instead of taking the research to heart, focused on pacifying indignant students, alumni, and faculty members who felt insulted by the results. In an open letter to the campus responding to demands that the university condemn the study, Duke provost Peter Lange and other administrators stated that they “understand how the conclusions of the research paper can be interpreted in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes.” They assured students that there are no easy fields of study at Duke and took the position that insofar as the mammoth problem identified in the study exists, it could easily be solved through student counseling and a few tweaks to the science curriculum.
Evidently, business will remain as usual at Duke. Potential affirmative-action recruits with an interest in science and engineering will continue to be told that Duke is the school for them. They will not be told that their chances of success in their chosen fields would be greater at Ohio State or, for that matter, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nor will they be told that if they switch majors to disciplines like African and African-American studies, art history, English, sociology, and women’s studies, they are less likely to enjoy lucrative careers or indeed to get jobs at all. In securities law, this would qualify as actionable fraud. In higher education, it is considered virtuous.
Tomorrow we look at the incredible lengths affirmative action's proponents and the colleges and universities which practice affirmative action will go to keep the facts and figures related to affirmative action shrouded in secrecy and hidden from the social scientists and members of the public who wish to examine them.