Stuart Taylor suggests that there has been insufficient discussion of the proximate cause of the current wave of campus protest. Had he been reading this blog he would know that I have on several occasions made the point that minority students at major college campuses have encountered problems because they have been admitted under affirmative action programs and thus find themselves incapable of competing with Asian and white students. They are, as Taylor and Richard Sander argued in a recent book, mismatched.
One remarks that college administrators have missed this point completely.
Now Taylor explains it all in great detail and his analysis is well worth our continued attention. I can add very little, and so will quote him at considerable length:
After saying that there has not been enough discussion of the use of racial preferences, Taylor describes the minority students who are leading the protests:
Most are, rather, victims of the very large admissions preferences that set up racial-minority students for academic struggle at the selective universities that have cynically misled them into thinking they are well qualified to compete with classmates who are, in fact, far stronger academically.
The reality is that most good black and Hispanic students, who would be academically competitive at many selective schools, are not competitive at the more selective schools that they attend.
That’s why it takes very large racial preferences to get them admitted. An inevitable result is that many black and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic students cannot keep up with better-prepared classmates and rank low in their classes no matter how hard they work.
What are the consequences of this mismatch?
Studies show that this academic “mismatch effect” forces them to drop science and other challenging courses; to move into soft, easily graded, courses disproportionately populated by other preferentially admitted students; and to abandon career hopes such as engineering and pre-med. Many lose intellectual self-confidence and become unhappy even if they avoid flunking out.
This depresses black performance at virtually all selective schools because of what experts call the cascade effect. Here’s how it works, as Richard Sander and I demonstrated in a 2012 book, :
Only 1 to 2 percent of black college applicants emerge from high school well-qualified academically for (say) the top Ivy League colleges. Therefore, those schools can meet their racial admissions targets only by using large preferences. They bring in black students who are well qualified for moderately elite schools like (say) the University of North Carolina, but not for the Ivies that recruit them. This leaves schools like UNC able to meet their own racial targets only by giving large preferences to black students who are well qualified for less selective schools like (say) the University of Missouri but not for UNC. And so on down the selectivity scale.
As a result, experts agree, most black students at even moderately selective schools — with high school preparation and test scores far below those of their classmates — rank well below the middle of their college and grad school classes, with between 25% and 50% ranking in the bottom tenth. That’s a very bad place to be at any school.
The consequences are not merely academic. They are also social:
This, in turn, increases these students’ isolation and self-segregation from the higher-achieving Asians and whites who flourish in more challenging courses. At least one careful study shows that students are more likely to become friends with peers who are similar in academic accomplishment.
Taylor notes that extra effort on the part of the mismatched students cannot close the gap:
[Minority students] who may work heroically during the first semester only to be lost in many classroom discussions and dismayed by their grades.
As they start to see the gulf between their own performance and that of most of their fellow students, dismay can become despair. They soon realize that no matter how hard they work, they will struggle academically.
But due to racial preferences, they find themselves for the first time in their lives competing against classmates who have a huge head start in terms of previous education, academic ability, or both.
Researchers have shown that racial preference recipients developnegative perceptions of their own academic competence, which in turn harms their performance and even their mental health, through “stereotype threat” and other problems. They may come to see themselves as failures in the eyes of their families, their friends, and themselves.
Next, he offers a case study:
Consider the case of a student whom I will call Joe, as told in Mismatch. He breezed through high school in Syracuse, New York, in the top 20 percent of his class. He had been class president, a successful athlete, and sang in gospel choir. He was easily admitted to Colgate, a moderately elite liberal arts college in rural New York; no one pointed out to Joe that his SAT scores were far below the class median.
Joe immediately found himself over his head academically, facing far more rigorous coursework than ever before. “Nobody told me what would be expected of me beforehand,” Joe later recalled. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And it all made me feel as if I wasn’t smart enough.”
But just as surprising and upsetting was the social environment in which Joe found himself. “I was immediately stereotyped and put into a box because I was African American,” he recalled. “And that made it harder to perform. People often made little derogatory comments.…There was a general feeling that all blacks on campus were there either because they were athletes or they came through a minority recruitment program.… That was just assumed right away.”
Of course, the nation is so thoroughly wedded to the notion that affirmative action programs will level the playing field that they are incapable of seeing the truth:
Not many mismatched students complain — even if they figure out — that the root of their problems is that they are not well-qualified to compete with their classmates. The universities, the media, and others do their best to conceal and deny this connection. And it is human nature to seek less humiliating, more sinister explanations.
It is, unfortunately, also human nature to refuse to accept that one’s policies are a failure. It’s not just that the administrators do not want to humiliate the mismatched minority students—though that is certainly the case—but that they do not want to admit that they themselves and the policies they have wholeheartedly supported have produced the problem:
The grievance-prone college culture offers ready targets for these frustrated students to blame for their plight: wildly exaggerated and sometimes fabricated instances of racism, trivial perceived “microaggressions,” and the very real racial isolation that is largely due to racially preferential admissions — all leading to a supposedly hostile learning environment.
Another common reaction is to withdraw into racial enclaves within the campus. Many universities encourage this by creating black dormitories and even by assigning entering students to them.
As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, one easy solution would be for minority students to refuse to apply or attend colleges where they will be mismatched, but to aim for schools in which they can excel. That choice, after all, is wholly theirs. Just because you can be you are accepted by Harvard does not mean that you have to go to Harvard.