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Cultural Diversity: Breaking Barriers, Widening Perspectives
In recent years, the use of race in college admissions has been vigorously contested in several states and in the courts. In 1996, a federal appeals court in New Orleans, deciding the Hopwood vs. Texas case, declared such a race-sensitive policy unconstitutional when its primary aim is not to remedy some specific wrong from the past. Californians have voted to ban all consideration of race in admitting students to public universities. Surprisingly, however, amid much passionate debate, there has been little hard evidence of how these policies work and what their consequences have been.
To remedy this deficiency, we examined the college and later-life experiences of more than 35,000 students—almost 3,000 of whom were black—who had entered 28 selective colleges and universities in the fall of 1976 and the fall of 1989. This massive database, built jointly by the schools and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for the first time links information such as SAT scores and college majors to experiences after college, including graduate and professional degrees, earnings and civic involvement. Most of our study focused on African Americans and whites, because the Latino population at these schools was too small to permit the same sort of analysis. What did we discover?
Compared with their extremely high-achieving white
classmates, black students in general received somewhat lower
college grades and graduated at moderately lower rates. The reasons
for these disparities are not fully understood, and selective
institutions need to be more creative in helping improve black
performance, as a few universities already have succeeded in doing.
Still, 75 percent graduated within six years, a figure well above
the 40 percent of blacks and 59 percent of whites who graduated
nationwide from the 305 universities tracked by the National Collegiate
Athletic Association. Moreover, blacks did not earn degrees from
these selective schools by majoring in easy subjects. They chose
substantially the same concentrations as whites and were just
as likely to have difficult majors, such as those in the sciences.
Reflection Exercise #4
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