Friday, January 19, 2007

Income-based rather than race-based affirmative action?

Kevin Drum, reacting the House passing the student loan bill (decreasing interest rates), advocates replacing race-based affirmative action with income-based affirmative action:

In fact, I'd combine this with something else to make it even better. A few years ago I read a Century Foundation study that made a very compelling case that we ought to replace all (or most) race-based affirmative action with income-based affirmative action. (Full report here.) The study found that if it's implemented well, (a) income-based affirmative action produces nearly as much racial diversity as race-based affirmative action, (b) it promotes economic diversity as well, and (c) it actually produces higher graduation rates than either a pure merit-based system (test scores and high school GPAs) or a traditional affirmative action program. What's more, it's an approach that most of the public finds inherently fair.

So: I'd favor increased financial aid to poor and middle-class students and income-based affirmative action to help them gain admission to the best university they're likely to do well at. It's good for the kids, it's good for the country, it would increase graduation rates, and if it's done right it might even allow us to make more sensible choices about just how many students ought to attempt a university degree vs. a community college degree. And it provides an effective substitute (i.e., one that genuinely helps minority students) for race-based affirmative action, a program that's overwhelmingly unpopular among the American public and therefore, in the long run, probably not sustainable. This would be a pretty good alternative.

Seems like a good idea to me. I think affirmative action would be on much sounder footing if it was based on income/assets (something that's objectively meausreable) rather than race, which can be a problematic concept in many ways. I'm half-Chinese. Does that "count" as Chinese? What about my son, who is a quarter Chinese, but seems to look pretty Asian so far. Of course, being of Asian descent probably won't get you any affirmative action points in a lot of places.


Blogger Heraldblog said...

I taught a summer journalism workshop for minority high school students a few years back, and was struck at how few of my students were truly impoverished. One kid was 1/16th Native American, and his parents drove him to class each day in the family BMW.

The point of the workshop was to prepare more minority students for work as journalists, to give minorities a larger voice in the media. The problem with this is the underlying assumption that all minorities speak as one, that they all have the same concerns and frames of reference. This is of course ridiculous. The "Black Experience" has changed drastically since Ellison wrote The Invisible Man, and while racial intolerance still exists, large swaths of Black Americans have moved into the middle class and above, and their voices are vastly different than those of the black underclass.

The original reason for affirmative action was to give a leg up to persons disadvantaged economically by racial discrimination. That's well and good, but it has carried an unspoken assumption that all minorities are disadvantaged.

6:58 PM, January 19, 2007  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I think this is a bit more complicated. I went to school with some very rich kids, and I was not one. I often wondered if affirmative action shouls be basedon class, not race, because I saw that many of my minority peers in school indeed had a lot more financial resources than I did. However, now that I have an advanced degree, my class background, at least in brief encounters like job interviews, is invisible. But if I were a minority, no matter how educated or wealthy, I could still be discrimated against - there is no way for minority status to be invisible, and sadly there are plenty of racists out there - some of whom have quite a bit of power. I'm not saying class shouldn't be part of an affirmative action plan, but that race cannot be taken out of the equation - yet.

8:29 PM, January 20, 2007  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Please fogive the many typos above - I'm distracted by my 4-month-old right now.

8:30 PM, January 20, 2007  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Thanks Sarah and Heraldblog for your comments.

9:11 PM, January 20, 2007  
Blogger blair said...

Income-base affirmative action programs would not work because there are more low-income non Hispanic white students than low-income African American and Hispanic students. Non-Hispanic white and Asian students from low-income families academically out perform African American and Hispanic students. Therefore, income-based affirmative action would increase the number of non-Hispanic white students on campus by a small percentage and the number of Asian students, who outperform non-Hispanic whites, by an even larger number. (Some studies predict that Asian students would take four out of every five slots that now go to African-American and Hispanic students under race-based affirmative action plan.)

Options that would work better are the Texas ten percent solution which guarantees admissions to any student who graduates within the top ten percent of their high school class. This helps Afircan American and Hispanic students enrolled in poor school districts that tend to be predominately minority. So far, the top ten percenters enrolled at the University of Texas and Texas A&M appear to be holding their own academically.

Another solution would be to pool all applicants who meet minimum requirements into a lottery pool. The laws of chance would ensure races and ethic groups are proportionally represented, not in relationship to their percentage of the pouplation but in relation to their percentage of minimally qualified applicants.

9:41 PM, January 22, 2007  

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