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September 21, 2010 4:12 PM New Affirmative Action?

By Daniel Luzer

The College Guide has written before about the idea of a new form of affirmative action in education, one with the potential to address social class, not merely race. It looks like that might actually be happening, slowly. According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Socioeconomic class is no longer dismissed as a key element of diversity in academe. Many advocates for working-class and low-income people say they are hearing much more discussion of the need for greater socioeconomic diversity in faculties and student bodies, even if such talk often does not translate into immediate, discernible change.
Helping drive such discussions are several academic groups formed to draw attention to working-class concerns. They include the Association of Working Class Academics, for scholars from working-class and low-income backgrounds, and the Working Class Studies Association and the Labor and Working-Class History Association, for scholars interested in research about and support for that population.

Part of the barrier simply has to do with definitions. While black and Asian students are easy to identify, what is a working-class student anyway? People whose parents do physical labor? People whose parents live below the poverty line? Students with parents who didn’t attend college? How about students from families with below-average family incomes? How about just below average for the school?

Even if such students are hard to identify and target, schools at least are making progress.

Many highly-selective schools at least now have policies such that students from low-income families can graduate college without any debt.

Many universities now have scholars specifically studying social class issues. Furthermore, thanks at least in part to the public policy efforts devoted to race-based affirmative action, Americans now have a greater understanding of social class and idea that improving access to education might benefit society as a whole.

Most efforts thus far seem to be taking place at individual schools. One wonders what policies come next for affirmative action.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer