Socioeconomic Affirmative Action Won’t Create Racial Diversity on Campus

umd_logoWith the Supreme Court set to issue its ruling next week in the key affirmative action case involving the University of Texas, a new study, led by Julie J. Park, an assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland, shows that preferences based on socioeconomic status would be a poor substitute for race in efforts to create a more diverse student body at American colleges and universities.

Dr. Park states, “You need both racial and socioeconomic diversity to achieve the rich engagement that educators are looking for. A broader mix of students helps encourage more fluid interactions.”

JBHE published similar studies as long ago as 1995. See, for example, “Why Socioeconomic Affirmative Action in College Admissions Works Against African Americans” (JBHE, Number 8, Summer 1995, pp. 57-60). Our research showed that there were far more low-income Whites that would benefit from socioeconomic affirmative action than low-income Blacks. Low-income Whites tend to have higher SAT scores and grade point averages than low-income Blacks. Our study showed that for families with incomes below $30,000, the number of White students who scored above 600 on each section of the SAT college entrance examination, outnumbered Blacks by a margin of 13 to 1. So in a race-neutral admissions environment where socioeconomic status alone is considered, Whites would probably gain most of the available admissions slots.

The University of Maryland study “Does Socioeconomic Diversity Make a Difference? Examining the Effects of Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity on the Campus Climate for Diversity,” was published in the June issue of the American Educational Research Journal and may be downloaded by clicking here.

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