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10%/10%/10% Just Isn’t Possible

One aspect of the recently published Dartmouth Freedom Budget was its call for a minimum quota of 30% of each incoming College class to be set aside in equal parts for members of each of three minority groups:

Freedom Budget Comp.jpg

We’ll set aside the issue of whether the primary mission of Dartmouth College is social and economic redistribution (there’s a good argument that the College should be devoted to giving the finest possible education to the young men and women with the finest minds in the land). Let’s simply ask if there are enough members of the various minority groups in question to fill the proposed quotas.

One measure (and, yes, I know that it is not a perfect measure) of preparation for college-level studies is the College Board’s set of SAT exams. Dartmouth is proud of the high scores of its incoming students: the current median average (that’s the mid-point in the incoming class: half of students fall above it; half are below) for critical reading and for math is a score of 740, a figure that has been quite stable for many years:

SAT Scores Factbook CompB.jpg

The College Board breaks out by race and gender the SAT scores of each year’s students. It is striking how the number of students scoring over 700 (let alone 740) can vary by racial groups, and how few scorers over 700 there are in the three minority groups that the Freedom Budget recommends receive privileged access to the College:

SAT SCores By Race 2013 Table.jpg

To be clear: in 2013 a total of 2,012 African Americans/Blacks scored over 700 on the SAT (1.0% of all African Americans/Black test takers); 4,262 Latin@ students did so (4.7% of Latin@ test takers); and only 295 American Indian/Alaskan Natives did so (3.0% of American Indian/Alaskan Natives test takers). Among white students, 50,096 scored at this high level (6.0% of White test takers), and 29,405 Asians did so (15.0% of Asian test takers).

If Dartmouth allotted 30% of each freshman class to “Blacks, Latin@ and Native students,” and the Admissions department insisted that these students average at least 700 on their critical reading and math SAT tests, the College would have to enroll 4.8% of the nation’s high-scoring African Americans/Black students, 2.3% of high-scoring Latin@ students, and 33.9% of high-scoring Native students. Self-evidently that would be impossible, given the number of other colleges and universities who have diversity goals like the College’s.

If we allowed the admissions department to dip into populations of minority students who are less well prepared for high-level academics than the average Dartmouth student, we’d run squarely into the problems of mismatch, the injustice of admitting unprepared students into a demanding academic program, only to watch them fail to achieve their goals. Not that these students would not graduate, but, for example, a great many minority students, people who came to the College with the goal of majoring in the hard sciences, would find that they are unprepared for the amount and the complexity of the work in these courses (at present the administration provides little effective academic support to such students), and they would end up drifting over to the various “studies” disciplines and abandoning their dreams of becoming a doctor or a scientist.

Extensive studies (the first of which was done at Dartmouth by Professor Rogers Elliott) have shown that these same students, in schools whose academic programs are appropriate for their level of pre-college preparation, would become doctors, etc.

We might end by looking at the equity of allocating 30% of the freshman class to these three groups. The racial background of all students scoring over 700 on the SAT exams is divided up as follows:

SAT SCores By Race 2013 Graph.jpg

(Puerto Ricans and American Indians/Alaskan Natives each score 1% on the above graph.)

Of high school students scoring over 700 on the SAT in 2013, 55.35% were white; 32.49% were Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander; 4.81% were in the Other category (often Asians seeking to avoid categorization). In total, only 7.4% of all students scoring over 700 on the SAT were in the three groups that the Freedom Budget asks be allocated 30% of the freshman class (currently 18.4% of incoming freshmen are Black, Latin@, or Native). The Freedom Budget asks that the over-representation of minorities be increased from the current factor of 2.5X to 4X.

Addendum: Below are the U.S. Census’ figures for the breakdown of the American population by race in 2012. “Blacks, Latin@ and Native students” make up 31.2% of the population:

Distribution by Race USA Comp.jpg


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