(Macmillan hardcover, 2007). First heard of Peter's work during a conference of African American Princeton alumni in September '06.
Ward and his ilk happen to one of the many subjects Peter covers in his reporting and in
Peter is a deputy editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education
here in D.C.; his subjects are affirmative action, state and federal higher-education policy, and historically black colleges and universities. He previously covered school desegregation, urban education, immigrant education, and education research for Education Week
. He also has reported for the Associated Press, the Detroit Free Press
, the Northern Virginia Daily
, and the Ann Arbor News
, The Weekly Standard
, Teacher Magazine
, and Detroit Monthly
magazine. Peter apparently is a booster for Ambergris Cay, Belize
--a place my aunt's been trying to get us to for years! You can get details on more of Peter's work and the conceptual framework of the book on his blog, Color and Money
I spoke to Peter recently about his book and the issues it presents. Join us for this frank discussion, and please, besides buying Color and Money, you should take away some knowledge here that will cut the fog of lies, bombast and emotion on both sides of this debate. IT'S A LONG INTERVIEW, BUT YOU'LL BE TAKING NOTES, NO LIE...
Peter, welcome! Let's get right to it. Your choice of a title may make some parents and students uncomfortable in this strange milieu of Duke Lacrosse players and the Jena 6. Why did you pen this book, and why the title?
This book is in many ways a natural extension of my 20-plus-year career in journalism. Almost since the day I graduated from college in 1986, I have been writing about education and finding myself covering battles over education access. In one of my first jobs, as a reporter for the Associated Press, I covered a fairly pivotal minority student protest movement at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor—the movement that prompted the university’s administration to begin developing the affirmative action policies that would later be challenged before the Supreme Court in the Grutter and Gratz cases. I subsequently spent just over six years at Education Week, where I covered urban school districts, school desegregation—including the major Supreme Court desegregation decisions of the early 90s—and various issues related to the education of immigrants. I came to The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1996 and almost immediately began covering affirmative action, reporting on Proposition 209 in California and following the Grutter and Gratz cases from the district courts on up to the Supreme Court.
I’ll be honest with you. If my career as an education writer had pushed me into jobs where I had to review reading textbooks or use the term “pedagogy” 30 times a day, I probably would have gotten bored and found some other calling. But the debates over education access that I covered have fascinated me to no end. The temperature of these debates tends to be blistering hot, and they involve some of the most profound questions confronted by our society: Who should be part of our nation’s elite? How do we define merit? What kind of nation do we want to be? Writing this book has enabled me to take what I have learned from covering hundreds of such controversies and, more importantly, has given me a chance to tackle these bigger, overarching questions head on.
I guess I have an emotional attachment to this subject as well, because, at some level, I take injustice very personally. As a matter of background, throughout my grade school and high school years, I was generally one of the fattest kids in my class, and I put up with a lot of grief as a result. I won’t be an idiot and tell you my experience was anything like the experience of a black person—or any other racial or ethnic minority—in our society. But I can tell you I do know what it is like to get my ass kicked day in and day out—to be pinned down and have my face pushed into the ground and be told to eat dirt or grass or dog shit—simply because of what I look like.
I had known I wanted to someday write a book on subject of affirmative action as of about ten years ago, because I knew how well-positioned I was to do a book on this subject. What finally made me decide to write this particular book, with this specific focus, was the language Sandra Day O’Connor used in writing for the majority in the Grutter decision. In upholding the status quo in college admissions, and accepting the University of Michigan’s arguments that it had no alternative but to consider race, she wrote:
“In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry,
it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented
and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity. All members of our
heterogeneous society must have confidence in the openness and integrity of
the educational institutions that provide this training.”
Knowing what I knew about how colleges actually worked—and how a huge share of this nation’s people will never get a realistic shot at a selective college education mainly because they were born on the wrong side of the tracks—Justice O’Connor’s words practically made me spit out my morning coffee. “Openness and integrity”? Who was she kidding? We are nowhere near to having the system she claimed to be upholding. And she had to have known that. I mean. After all, Sandra Day O’Connor is a Stanford alumna who became a member of Stanford’s board of trustees, giving her an insider’s knowledge of the place. Lo and behold, she watched two of her three kids get into Stanford, one of them while she was a board member. I don’t care how smart they were, Stanford turns down great applicants all of the time. If I gave you a buck for every person without connections who has watched two out of three of their children get into Stanford, I doubt you would end up with enough money to order a shot of bourbon at a dive bar. Four of the five justices in the Grutter majority were among at least two generations of their families to attend the same elite college. They knew full well what a legacy preference is, and I cannot believe it did not occur to them that the University of Michigan and other colleges could achieve a significant degree of racial and ethnic diversity without considering ethnicity or race simply by abandoning some or all of their many preferences for the wealthy and well-connected, who tend in our society to be white. I guess it is human nature not to challenge a club’s admissions rules if you are among those inside the club.
Now, as for the title of my book, I’m happy to hear it might make people uncomfortable. If people are uncomfortable, they are thinking, and I want to make people think. I firmly believe that, even if all my book does is get people to spend five minutes coming up with reasons to say I am wrong, I’ll be doing our society a favor by getting them to spend that five minutes.
In terms of your reference to the Duke lacrosse prosecution, let’s not forget that one of the Duke defendants, Collin Finnerty, had recently assaulted a man on the streets of Washington DC because the guy seemed gay to him. Let’s also keep in mind that Duke has a de facto segregated campus and a reputation for poor race relations, that the students in the lacrosse house had a reputation for being terribly disrespectful to their black neighbors, and that someone at that Duke lacrosse party told a black woman “thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt.” There came to be a point fairly early on where the Duke defendants were being prosecuted unjustly, no question about it. But I personally am not about to buy the argument that white privileged kids are the real victims of oppression on America’s college campuses, and that what happened at Duke is somehow reason to shelve the discussion of whether college admissions should be more fair and democratic.
I recognize that my title is provocative. But, since you have read my book, you know that I wrote it for a wide audience because I want to democratize this whole debate. I’m convinced that, if we continue to leave discussions of college admissions to the elite, the elite will continue looking out for itself while demanding sacrifice of everyone else. I mean, suppose I had called my book An Analysis of the Debate over Affirmative Action in College Admissions Based on First-Hand Reporting, a Review of Key Historical Texts, and an Examination of the Available Research on How Race, Ethnicity, and Socioeconomic Status Affect Educational Opportunity. How many people would have read it? Two dozen? Three? Four? And I’m guessing that nearly all of them would have been academics with a vested interest in keeping the status quo intact.
The only guilt I feel about the title is that it plays a bit of a trick on the reader. You see, as the debate over affirmative action in college admissions is currently framed, no matter what, rich white kids are going to win. Colleges use race-conscious admissions policy to create the illusion of equal opportunity and diversity when, in fact, their admissions policies overwhelmingly favor privilege (which generally is correlated with white skin) and in many respects their enrollments are not diverse at all. Many critics of affirmative action don’t really care much about socioeconomic diversity either, and if they force colleges get rid of race-conscious admissions without finding alternatives, the enrollments at selective institutions are going to become even more disproportionately wealthy and white. With a few exceptions, no one on either side of the debate talks much about making any sort of serious effort to dislodge the grip that the economically privileged have on such campuses.
I am glad that bloggers like you are paying attention to this book, because much of the mainstream press clearly is uncomfortable with it. You have to understand that many of our nation’s larger newspapers and political journals are essentially Ivy League clubs. Many of these people aren’t eager to see the world reading a book that reveals how many of the graduates of their alma maters are fairly dim and lazy, a book that exposes how the privileged game the system, and could conceivably make it harder for their own children to get into their alma maters. Much of the mainstream media also seems incredibly uncomfortable talking about affirmative action and issues of race. Some of our nation’s leading thinkers have raved about this book, and yet it has been incredibly difficult getting anyone to review it (even though the reviews that I have gotten have been overwhelmingly positive). For nearly two months Amazon has consistently ranked my book as a bestseller in a long list of categories, including public policy, race relations, minority studies, and modern U.S. history. Nevertheless, a few of the publishers who rejected this book told me flat-out they did not want to see the matters that it deals with discussed. I guess I have to give them credit for at least being honest.
I imagine that, three hundred years ago, you didn’t hear much debate about the best form of government among the world’s royal families. Those on the top of the pile don’t take kindly to any discussions of whether they belong there.
In the book and in other forums you allude to something called the “knighting effect.” Can you elaborate on this term with respect to low income minorities vis a vis middle class minority college applicants, and how “rich kids”may have “hijacked” this concept?
Well, I want to use this term “knighting effect” carefully, because if we misapply it we risk clouding the debate.
“Knighting effect” applies to the phenomenon in college admissions where the chance of being accepted by a selective college is actually quite good for someone who both comes from a financially impoverished background and very, very smart. The student is such an extreme case in both respects that the admissions officers can’t help being wowed, and pat themselves on the back for finding such a diamond in the rough. It is important to keep in mind that there is only a small population that this applies to. At least in one study of 28 selective colleges conducted by two Williams College researchers (and available on my Web site, colorandmoney.com), the knighting effect seemed to have no bearing at all on students whose families made more than about $24,000 annually, or who had SAT scores below about 1300 on a 1600 point scale. If you scored a 1400 but your parents made $35,000 annually, or your parents made $10,000 annually but you scored an 1100 on the SAT, you weren’t statistically shown to benefit.
Where colleges aggressively use race- and ethnicity-conscious admissions policies, I don’t think the knighting effect has much relevance for black, Hispanic, or Native American applicants—they’re generally smiled upon without it, regardless of family income, in some cases even when their academic credentials are well below the “knighting effect” threshold. Where such admissions policies have been banned, I am not sure the knighting effect helps a lot of lot of students, simply because there are so few black, Hispanic, and American Indian students from poor families who earn impressive enough grades and test scores to benefit. You have to keep in mind that, nationally, there are only about 1,600 black and 3,000 Hispanic students who post SAT scores in the top 10 percent every year. And, because academic achievement correlates with class, a disproportionate number of those kids are from families earning incomes well above “knighting effect” range. I suppose they might benefit from something similar to the knighting effect if colleges consider their race or ethnicity to be, in itself, a disadvantage. Given that (on just about every major test out there) the average score for the subset of black students coming from the upper-middle class is about the same as the average score for lower-middle-class white students, you can statistically argue that discrimination and its after-effects still hinder achievement, that race plays a significant role independent of class. But equating black skin in itself with disadvantage does not sit well with a lot of people, and there is a risk of feeding into stereotypes and perpetuating discrimination by doing so.
Rich white kids have not hijacked the term “knighting effect,” they have turned it on its head. Properly used, knighting effect refers to the triumph of exceptional ability over impoverished circumstances. When wealthy white kids get admitted based on their connections or their families’ ability to donate, what we are witnessing is the triumph of privileged circumstances over a lack of ability.
Within the context of the book’s thesis, how did this “paradigm” of the “qualified, deserving white student” originate? Indeed, if I may play Bill O’Reilley or Sean Hannity, why should “unqualified, undeserving minorities” have some sort of preference in admissions, and, by extension of your thesis, financial assistance? What about “middle class” students of any race or ethnicity?
Your question prompted me to do a computerized search of my book to see if I had ever used the term “deserving” as you do here, and I was relieved to find that I hadn’t. The question of who deserves what in our society is a value judgment that I went out of my way not to make. I raise the question of who should be getting into our best colleges, but the closest I come to offering an answer is to lay out the options and describe what the consensus has been at various points in our nation’s history.
I think the consensus for at least the last 50 years has been that college admissions should be meritocratic—with valid exceptions. There is generally a consensus around the goal of meritocracy because it appeals to our belief in fairness and to our society’s interests. If you are going under the surgeon’s knife, you like to think our medical schools are selecting the best. If you hold stock in a corporation, you like to think the people running it got into business schools on their own merits. The Cold War and Space Race—and, subsequently, the emergence of global economic competition—have largely convinced this nation that it cannot afford to have its colleges rejecting top talent.
Most of the debate revolves around how we should define merit and what, if any, exceptions we should make to any definition of meritocracy. Just about everyone has some population that they would like to see exempted from the idea that college admissions should be based on grade point averages and SAT or ACT scores. Maybe they think you should take a person’s circumstances into account, so that a kid from an impoverished background with a 3.3 GPA will be considered worthier than a millionaire’s kid with a 3.4. Maybe they think it is important for a college to enroll great football players, regardless of whether they have the brains to be there, because they hate to spend their Saturday afternoons cheering a bunch of losers. Maybe they want their kids to rub elbows with the children of the rich and famous—out of a belief that the resulting connections will pay off—and therefore are more than happy to see them enroll in a college that lowers the bar for the children of movie stars, politicians, and business tycoons.
As my book explains, the reason minority students initially got admissions preferences, back in the sixties, was because our cities were being torn apart by riots, and the people running our selective colleges thought our society was going to slide further into chaos unless black Americans were sent a clear signal that they could move up in the world, that the nation’s top colleges and top jobs were open to all, regardless of skin color or ancestry. The belief was that, once black Americans could see other black Americans heading up the ladder and becoming part of the establishment, they would no longer be easily convinced that violence was the only way to improve their conditions, and the establishment had to be overthrown. The nonviolent, integrationist teachings of Martin Luther King would hold more appeal for them than the militancy of the Black Power movement. This desire to avoid more urban uprisings was hardly a trivial concern.
As time went on, however, the rationale for affirmative action evolved. With the Bakke decision of 1978, the Supreme Court decided that public colleges cannot be in the business of giving one group preference over another for the sake of bringing about social justice, that it is folly for government entities to be in the business of trying to decide who owes what historical debt to whom in our society. The only justification for such preferences allowed by the court was the idea that college students benefit educationally from the presence of diversity on their campus. The court accepted colleges’ word on this matter—it never really asked them to prove educational benefits. As time went on, college came to see the production of black and Hispanic graduates as a way to get financial support from corporations and government agencies. While not yet embraced by the court in a way that gives it the power of law—and somewhat morally troubling if one looks back at the Jim Crow-era argument that white businesses would lose their customers if forced to hire black employees—there is this idea that affirmative-action preferences are justified because the future of our economy hinges on the ability of companies to hire a diverse workforce.
One of the problems supporters of affirmative action face is that the current rationales for it don’t seem to have much public appeal when something like Michigan’s Proposal 2 or California’s Proposition 209 gets on the ballot. I mean, if I am middle-class white father who thinks my kid just got rejected from a college in favor of a minority kid, am I going to feel any better about the situation if someone tells me that college is filled with wealthy white kids from overwhelmingly white schools who need to finally be exposed to the racial diversity their parents had been sheltering them from, or that the financial well-being of Fortune 500 stockholders and executives depends on kids like mine taking it on the chin? If you look at the exit polls from when Michiganders voted on Proposal 2 last fall, the biggest supporters of affirmative action were people with advanced degrees—who had gotten about as far as they wanted to—and people who had never made it past high school. The people most opposed to affirmative action were those who had just a few years of college or, at most, bachelor’s degrees, people with some ambition who never made it to the top of the academic ladder.
Consider this illustration. In his book A Class Apart, Washington Post reporter Alec Klein related that in the case of a New York public high school for gifted children, Stuyvesant, Asian students were preparing for three years to take the entry test in underground academies; they dominate the student body far out of proportion to other groups in the school and their general presence in the city’s student population. Increasing swaths of black and Hispanic students are excluded despite near-misses at the test cut-off; black and Hispanic enrollments at the school have been in steady decline. Here’s the rub. The usual comments of “lazy” or “unprepared” minorities, and of “meritocracy” headlined any criticism of those who said Stuyvesant’s admissions needed to be reformed. That was until the true extent of Asian students’ predominance came to light. White students (Catholic, white Protestant, Jewish) began disappearing as well, and mysteriously, all talk of “meritocracy” disappeared from the debate. Suddenly the school board is discussing “remedies.” What’s your take?
Your illustration reminds me of a study discussed in my book. In the early 1990s, David Wellman, a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, conducted focus group interviews in which he asked students their opinions of various admissions policies, including race-conscious admissions. When he asked white students how black and Hispanic applicants were evaluated, many were adamant that admissions policies should be based strictly on grades and test scores. When he asked white students how Asian American applicants should be evaluated, the white students’ support for a SAT-and-GPA-based meritocracy evaporated. Suddenly, they didn’t think applicants’ SAT scores were nearly as important
as whether or not they were “well rounded.”
It probably should not shock anyone that there is a remarkable overlap between how people define “merit” and the self-interests of those doing the defining.
As an aside, I am often surprised by how colleges talk about Asian American students. I get press releases essentially saying “Good news: Our Asian American enrollments went down” or “Despite our best efforts, Asian American enrollments went up.” If colleges talked about any other population the way they talk about Asians, all hell would break loose, but they seem comfortable describing their growing Asian enrollments as some sort of blight, or a cancer that needs to be kept in check.
Difficult questions here--how are flagship state/public universities doing with respect to recruiting and maintaining minority and low-income students , as opposed to private schools? Are the Ivies doing better? What about sectarian private schools, from Notre Dame or Georgetown to Bob Jones University?
I am going to have to dodge this series of questions for several reasons, but I hope I can shed some light even in doing so.
I don’t want to get into comparing specific institutions partly because the Chronicle has scrupulously avoided getting into the college-ranking business, which your questions seem to drag me into. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education does a lot of these comparisons, and I would suggest that your readers consult it if they really want to know how Bob Jones stacks up against Notre Dame.
In regard to the broader comparison you invite, the Chronicle has not sought to compare all flagship publics against all privates, in part because there is so much variety among both types of institutions such comparisons might be meaningless. Moreover, I think one has to be careful comparing institutions without taking into account the populations they serve. I mean, just as it does not take a great cosmetologist to make Angelina Jolie look beautiful, I am not sure it says all that much for an Ivy League college to have high minority graduation rates when that college has the luxury of cherry-picking the very best minority high school graduates out there. In this respect, I think a lot of HBCUs that educate large numbers of ordinary students from disadvantaged settings don’t get nearly enough credit.
Your questions do bring to mind one interesting phenomenon that I can share. Some research, including that described in the well-known book The Shape of the River, has shown that minority students have higher graduation rates at highly selective colleges than they do at less-selective institutions. Much of the explanation for this may be found in the intense academic support that such elite colleges can offer. Things seem to have changed since I was in college in the early 80s and I took it as a badge of honor that I graduated when a lot of kids in my class failed out or dropped out. Partly because U.S. News and other guides judge them on their retention rates, and partly because no parent wants to spend huge amounts on tuition sending their kid somewhere where they won’t graduate, these top colleges bend over backwards to try to make sure their students graduate. Their retention rates are often in the high 90 percents. Some critics say the desire to keep students in college at any cost has spawned grade inflation or a dumbing down of the curriculum. I have certainly heard plenty of people say the hardest part about Harvard was getting in.
As an aside, I note that your question asks about recruitment and retention but does not ask about achievement. I think focusing on the retention of minority students ignores a key problem, which is that the disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic undergraduates fail to academically achieve at high levels. Some people say academic credentials are a lot more important than grades—a Harvard degree is a Harvard degree, whatever your GPA. But, without top grades, students have trouble getting into our better graduate and professional schools, unless those institutions also give serious consideration to ethnicity and race. (To shamelessly plug my own work again, see the article on my Web site with the headline “What Color is an A?”) Affirmative action has allowed colleges, and our society as a whole, to paper over gaps in achievement stemming from societal and educational problems we have not begun to resolve. Wherever and whenever affirmative-action preferences are banned, it is like a trap door suddenly opens under those who are not achieving at high levels. They go from surveying opportunities to being in a hole they have trouble crawling out of.
In your book you find support in the work of researchers like Anthony Carnevale of the Educational Testing Service. Minority students who gained a foothold based on their race/ethnicity don’t appear so “unqualified and undeserving” in the face of such research. Please give us a little background or Mr. Carnevale's study, and how it might reframe the whole debate over affirmative action.
Back in the late 1990s, Carnevale and some fellow researchers at ETS began looking for alternatives to using affirmative-action preferences to bring about diversity on campus. ETS, which administers the SAT test under contract with the College Board, initially supported this research out of self-interest, because people there thought there would be a backlash against the SAT if affirmative action went away and the SAT took on an even bigger role in determining who got into good colleges.
As part of their research, Carnevale et. al. were given access to data on students from 146 of the nation’s top colleges—mostly state flagships, top private research universities, the Ivy League, and solid little liberal arts colleges. Most people never get access to this type of information, because it is covered by federal privacy laws, but they were able to use it because they could be trusted not to produce results that personally identified any student. At one point, they decided to construct a fake admissions process based on what they knew about the minimum academic standards of these institutions, and then ran student profiles through this process, to see how many students made the cut based on things such as grades, SAT or ACT scores, teacher recommendations (scored on an index), and “leadership” (basically involvement in extracurricular activities, also scored on an index.) The researchers found that 15 percent of these students were white kids who did not meet the standards of their own institutions. Based on other research, Carnevale concluded that some were recruited athletes, but many others had gotten in because they were legacies, or connected to a major donor, or had ties to a politician, or were the child of a faculty member or administrator, or had some other non-academic “hook” (to borrow admissions office jargon).
You have to keep in mind that these 15 percent were just the tip of the preference iceberg, the students who clearly had the bar lowered for them. Throughout most of the applicant pool—or, at least, the reaches where applicants are not absolute shoe-ins—students with cash and connections elbow aside better-qualified students who lack those things.
Carnevale estimated that, without affirmative action, the share of the enrollment at these colleges that is black or Hispanic would drop from 12 percent to about 4 percent—an 8 percentage point difference. So it is clearly the case that a white applicant to one of these colleges has a much better chance of losing a seat to a less-qualified white applicant than a less-qualified applicant who is black or Hispanic.
I initially called attention to Carnevale’s 15-percent estimate in The Chronicle of Higher Education a few years ago, and our readership in higher education seemed to yawn and think nothing of it. When I called attention to it again a few weeks ago in a Boston Globe essay, it was picked up by a lot of liberal or leftist blogs and by blogs geared toward minority audiences, as evidence that people who blame affirmative action for their failure to get into college are attacking the wrong target.
One thing people have to keep in mind, however, is that Carnevale’s findings cut both ways in the affirmative-action debate. The Supreme Court has said that colleges must consider alternative ways to bring about diversity before giving extra consideration to applicants’ race, ethnicity, or gender. Carnevale’s research shows that colleges may not be trying very hard to find these alternatives. Other studies have provided additional evidence that colleges could marginally increase their racial and ethnic diversity—and substantially increase their class diversity—if they stopped giving preferences to jocks and applicants with cash and connections. If they rethought their reliance on academic criteria that arguably have some educational basis but also strongly correlate with class—SAT scores, the number of AP courses on a transcript, high-school reputations—they could increase such diversity even more. As my book shows, there is a long list of other college policies—too complex to summarize easily here—that work to the advantage of wealthy applicants. It is entirely possible the courts may someday consider all of these things and tell colleges that claim there are no alternatives to race- or ethnicity-conscious admissions that they have not been trying hard enough. Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court spent much of his career in private practice representing colleges and higher-education groups. He knows the higher-education field well enough that it won’t be easy for colleges to pull the wool over his eyes.
Finally, Peter, I’d like you to comment on this. A tenet of your thesis is that too often colleges with huge endowments are not honoring pledges to recruit minorities and provide financial assistance. Hence, an overrepresentation of “wealthier” white students…many partying hardy rather then studying. It’s been my personal experience the Admissions program at my alma mater, Princeton, as well as other Ivies, are strongly committed to recruitment, retention, financial relief—drawing down much opprobrium from conservative alumni. Concurrently, local D.C. schools such as American University or George Washington University with lower endowments appear to correlate with tuitions higher than the Ivies, and ...I'm prepared for the bloody howling AU and GWU will shoot my way on this next claim...traditionally low minority and low income enrollment. Am I setting up an inapt comparison, or are there some points here that hold water?
Your question draws attention to two truisms in life—it is easier to be generous if you are rich, but it is harder to become financially rich if you are too generous. It is absolutely the case that some Ivy League institutions have recently taken the lead in trying to hold down tuition and provide more aid to low-income students, largely because their endowments are big enough they feel they can afford to do this. Meanwhile, a lot of colleges with smaller endowments do not feel financially secure enough yet to take such steps.
A few wrinkles you have to keep in mind, however. First of all, there are plenty of colleges with large endowments that have not taken such steps. Secondly, all the recruitment and aid in the world won’t make a difference if students are not being admitted, and as long as colleges continue to evaluate applicants based on criteria that reward privilege, there won’t be a huge increase in the number of low-income students who get through the door and qualify for these aid dollars. Finally, you have to keep in mind that these colleges generally have not been curtailing their non-academic preferences, so any increases in their numbers of low-income and minority students is coming at the expensive of working-, middle-, and even upper-middle-class white and Asian American kids who lack cash, connections, or the savvy or cynicism to use them. Because colleges generally don’t call attention to their preferences for the privileged, the anger of the rejected gets directed at policies that advantage minorities. The political backlash against affirmative action intensifies.
By the way, I am not saying that everyone who rejects affirmative-action preferences does so out of self-interest. I have heard valid arguments against such preferences based on the principle that any racial or ethnic discrimination is wrong, and I have heard valid arguments against them based on pragmatic concerns over whether they are accomplishing their goals. But in the political realm actions trigger reactions. If people become convinced the deck is stacked against them, eventually, they rebel.