Affirmative action and higher education Admissions programs: Study suggests efforts to increase diversity of students shortchange no one.

October 01, 1998

THE DECADES-LONG debate over affirmative action in college admissions has been more rhetorical and emotional than factual. Now comes an attempt to remedy that flaw and provide some substance to the arguments.

A massive study that involved 35,000 students, 5,000 of them black, presents the first evidence that race-conscious policies are effective. The work is by two former university presidents, William Bowen of Princeton and Derek Bok of Harvard.

"The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions" shows no one was shortchanged when race was used as a factor for deciding on college admission, along with grades, extracurricular activities, test scores and family and alumni connections. All students said that they benefited from such interracial contact in school and later in life.

The findings are ammunition for those who want an integrated and diverse America but realize that it will not happen in a vacuum.

The study of students who were admitted in 1976 to 28 elite schools also found that African Americans (including those who may have been admitted despite lower test scores than their white counterparts) took advantage of their opportunities, going to graduate school at a higher rate than whites and, 20 years later, participating more actively in community affairs.

Armed with an excellent education, black students were able to defy the shortcomings of poorer early education and other disadvantages. Opponents should praise rather than resist such results. The alternative is never-ending inequality and racial stress.

Among the universities studied were such public institutions as Penn State, Michigan and North Carolina, and private schools including Stanford, Williams, Duke, and Pennsylvania. No Maryland universities were included.

With diversity programs being challenged over their fairness to whites, this study suggests such fears are misplaced. Diversity is an important part of the education of our young people and is crucial to the nation. The elite schools demonstrate that affirmative action can be effective.

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Affirming affirmative action

Institution -- Princeton University

White graduation rate -- 95%

Black graduation rate -- 92%

Percentage point difference -- 3

Institution -- Wesleyan University

White graduation rate -- 88%

Black graduation rate -- 84%

Percentage point difference -- 4

Institution -- Bryn Mawr College

White graduation rate -- 84%

Black graduation rate -- 80%

Percentage point difference -- 4

Institution -- Wellesley College

White graduation rate -- 89%

Black graduation rate -- 82%

Percentage point difference -- 7

Institution -- Yale University

White graduation rate -- 96%

Black graduation rate -- 88%

Percentage point difference -- 8

vTC SOURCE: Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1997 NCAA Division I report

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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