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January 31, 2013 2:35 PM The Bigger Higher-Ed Affirmative Action Issue

By Ed Kilgore

It is widely expected that before the U.S. Supreme Court ends its current session, it will act to significantly restrict college affirmative action programs in a case involving Texas.

But in the January/February issue of the Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation argues that while the Supreme Court may do damage to minority access to elite universities if it strikes down affirmative action programs, the bigger ongoing outrage is the inadequate funding and poor accountability afflicting the institutions that are failing most minority college students:

People may vehemently disagree about how to help minority students in K-12 education, but nearly all agree that the students need help in the first place. Yet in every big city with a headline-making, underperforming school district, there’s a public higher education system receiving not 1/100th of the scrutiny. Detroit, for example, is widely seen to have the worst public school system in America—so bad that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he “lose[s] sleep over” the plight of the city’s 50,000 students. But how many people know that Wayne State, Detroit’s main public university, has an 8 percent—yes, 8 percent—graduation rate for black students? Who’s losing sleep over them?
Detroit is, no surprise, a worst case. But it’s hardly the only city with a pervasive and largely ignored higher education problem. In Duncan’s hometown, 19 percent of black students who enroll full-time at Chicago State University graduate within six years. At California State University, Los Angeles, it’s 22 percent. The University of the District of Columbia matches Wayne State for futility, with an 8 percent graduation rate for black students. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? 19 percent.
Texas Southern University in Houston was once the Texas State University for Negroes—the separate, unequal institution that the state created to avoid integration…. Today, it hosts the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and graduates 12 percent of its black undergraduates on time.

Carey thinks the inevitable furor over the Texas case before the Supreme Court should draw attention to this broader problem of educational equity:

States need to start practicing financial affirmative action by devoting more public resources to colleges that enroll students with the greatest academic needs. Along with the federal government, they should also penalize institutions with terrible graduation rates, student loan repayment rates, and post-graduation employment and earning rates, compared to peers with similar student populations. Those who set the national education agenda need to look past the handful of universities that graduate the ruling class and focus on improving the neglected institutions that educate future minority school teachers, scientists, doctors, and engineers. It will require the work of generations, but that’s what minority college students—blinkered jurists notwithstanding—truly need.
Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • ceilidth on January 31, 2013 3:02 PM:

    In all the heat expended about how terrible American schools are, we lose the simple fact that those schools that serve poor Americans of all races aren't just less good; they are terrible. Students who don't cause trouble from those schools are typically rewarded with good grades for being nice kids, not for meeting high academic standards. It's very hard being their college teachers and realizing that a good and idealistic person is simply not prepared to do college level work. We won't really solve the graduation issue until we solve the K-12 problem. And the only way to solve it is to focus resources on the schools producing the worst students.

  • c u n d gulag on January 31, 2013 3:04 PM:

    Both "Affirmative Action" in colleges, and the restrictions in "The Civil Rights Acts," are probably goners.

    I think, pretty obviously, the "Liberal" four, will vote to keep them.

    Scalia is itching to tear them down.
    Alito doesn't give two sh*ts about minorities.
    Thomas, who should, will be worthless on both, since he's "got his."

    It will be interesting to see what Roberts, "The Great Corporatist," will do.
    And Kennedy.

    For posterity, will he want some of the decisions in his final years be remembered as setting back Civil Rights for minorities?
    I don't know the answer to that.

    Before, he was fairly solid on Civil Rights issues.
    This, what he said in 2009, however, gives me pause:
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2009-04-29-scotus-voting-rights-act_N.htm


    THAT, I'm not sure of.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 31, 2013 5:36 PM:

    The demise of affirmative action would be a rather ironic and sad disaster for minority students, at least if the current funding levels for colleges that serve minority students stands. Here's why:

    With the multicultural and need-based recruiting many elite traditionally white universities are attracting minorities who, 30 years ago, would have gone to HBCUS. And with those students have gone money. HBCUs really have to compete nowadays for quality minority students, or else they just have to recruit the "last chance" students, which as we're seeing now, tanks the grad/retention rates and funding prospects, naturally.

    So if the mainstream flagships shut down a path to quality higher ed to minorities, they're throwing those students into network of schools that have been ravaged (indirectly) by 30 years of affirmative action. Of course, we can propose to better fund these institutions, but we all know how that will turn out. It would be worse than "separate but equal"...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 31, 2013 5:38 PM:

    The demise of affirmative action would be a rather ironic and sad disaster for minority students, at least if the current funding levels for colleges that serve minority students stands. Here's why:

    With the multicultural and need-based recruiting many elite traditionally white universities are attracting minorities who, 30 years ago, would have gone to HBCUS. And with those students have gone money. HBCUs really have to compete nowadays for quality minority students, or else they just have to recruit the "last chance" students, which as we're seeing now, tanks the grad/retention rates and funding prospects, naturally.

    So if the mainstream flagships shut down a path to quality higher ed to minorities, they're throwing those students into network of schools that have been ravaged (indirectly) by 30 years of affirmative action. Of course, we can propose to better fund these institutions, but we all know how that will turn out. It would be worse than "separate but equal"...