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NYT on Diversity in Higher Ed

The Times ran a long piece last week on the disproportionately few underrepresented minorities at top colleges and universities, and how the numbers are going in the wrong direction, even as the percentage of Blacks and Hispanic college-age students is rising in the overall population: Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago.

Nowhere is the College singled out for special mention, though among the Ivies, we seem to have the highest percentage of White students, the second-lowest percentage of Asians, and the lowest percentage of Hispanics and Blacks:

NYT Evolution of Race1.jpg

The Times seems to operate on the basic assumption that all racial groups should be proportionally represented at the most competitive institutions of higher learning, but the piece put forth no statistics regarding the relative qualifications of students applying to top schools. It makes only a qualitative generalization:

Affirmative action increases the numbers of black and Hispanic students at many colleges and universities, but experts say that persistent underrepresentation often stems from equity issues that begin earlier.

Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

“There’s such a distinct disadvantage to begin with,” said David Hawkins, an executive director at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “A cascading set of obstacles all seem to contribute to a diminished representation of minority students in highly selective colleges.”

The below graphs detail the absolute number of students from different racial groups who scored over 700 on the math and critical reasoning sections of the 2015 SAT.

SAT scores seems critical to admission to the College. Between 2000-2016, the mean average SAT score of incoming Dartmouth students was fixed in a tight band: math scores stood between a low of 714 and a high of 728 (students in the Class of 2020 scored 722); and for critical reasoning the low mean score was 703 and the peak was 723 (students in the Class of 2020 scored 717).

Curiously, the College Board seems to have removed the 2015 data from its website; however the 2013 data is still avaialble, and as you might expect, the results there are essentially the same: just over 2,000 Blacks and about 6,000 Hispanics scored over 700 on the SAT among all the students who took the SAT. About 48,000 Whites and 19,000 Asians scored above 700 in the critical reasoning section of the test, and in the math section about 53,000 Asians and 48,000 Whites scored about 700:

SAT by Race 2015 Charts Comp.jpg

The Times notes that today 15% of the college-age population is Black, and 22% is Hispanic. If Dartmouth’s Class of 2020 “looked like America,” as Jim Wright used to say, and if we wanted underrepresented minorities to score on average above 700 on the two parts of the SAT, we would have to enroll approximately 8% of America’s Blacks and 4% of Hispanics who earned 700+ on the SAT.

The logical upshot of these figures is that the best thing American society could feasibly do to redress the racial imbalance in our institutions of higher learning is revamp the performance of the country’s K-12 schools. As we have pointed out in the past, the scholarly work on mismatch shows the deleterious effects of admitting students of any background (race, legacy status, donor offspring, athletes) to colleges and universities where they are unprepared to do the work. Absent giving all students access to strong primary and secondary education, our top schools will always show the racial imbalance that the Times decries.

Addendum: The absolute validity of the SAT and other possible predictors (like high school GPA) of academic success at Dartmouth and the other Ivies is hard to prove because the College does not release any information regarding the grades of different ethnic groups nor their level of preparedness for studying in Hanover. However the College Board has prepared a detailed paper supporting the validity of using the SAT, students’ high school GPA, and especially the two together, in evaluating incoming students.

Addendum: I wrote a longer piece on this issue on May 31, 2016.

Addendum: A professor writes in:

Your comment today:

“Nowhere is the College singled out for special mention, though among the Ivies, we seem to have the highest percentage of White students, the second-lowest percentage of Asians, and the lowest percentage of Hispanics and Blacks:”

misses the fact that we have, uniquely, a percentage (3%) of Native American students, reflecting an important commitment to a much neglected minority.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

In your recent article on minority performance, you suggested K-12 education reform should be the focus. That would make sense if it could make a difference, but I’m not so sure.

As a case in point, for 40 years New Jersey has redirected tax revenue from the suburbs to higher poverty urban school districts and include free Pre-K in those areas. The assumption is more teachers, support services, and facilities could close the gap between urban (mostly minority) and suburban student performance. Often, the relative lack of resources is the excuse for poorer minority student performance, but few people look to the NJ experiment to see if that’s true when money is thrown at the problem.

In 2012 NJ published a report that found the following:

  • As of 2010, urban schools spent $3,200 more than the state average of $18,850 per pupil (and $3,100 more than the wealthiest districts).
  • This represented a 3x increase in spending between 1973 and 2010.
  • However, the academic achievement gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students actually increased over that period.

Despite more resources directed towards these disadvantaged students, they are still not doing as well as their wealthier counterparts in the same school system. If we’re going to close the gaps, we may have to do a lot more than improve schools and that starts at home.

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