Discrimination for diversity’s sake doesn’t help minorities succeed

The controversy over minority enrollment in North Carolina colleges gets right to the heart of diversity, the cardinal virtue of academe. Although the issue has been vexing colleges for years, it doesn’t take an outside observer long to realize the absurdly simple crux of the matter. The problem with minorities is just that there are just so few of them.

That there is a gap between black and white students academically is a subject of intense scrutiny. This gap has steadily been closing, however, although it is still significant. In the meantime, colleges try to address that gap through admissions focused on “diversity” (race- or gender-based).

With tuition rates at public colleges so low (especially in North Carolina) compared with those at private colleges, they receive a disproportionately large amount of applications. So admissions officers annually slough through thousands upon thousands of applications to decide who gets to attend school there. You might think this would solve the problem, but being public and therefore governmental entities, they are prevented from discriminating on the very grounds they use to determine diversity (race, gender, etc.). So schools try not to be too obvious in discriminating for diversity. The usual method is to acknowledge up front that discrimination is wrong and quotas are illegal, then proceed to discuss admissions “goals” for minority enrollment.

All of that verbal hoop-jumping would be unnecessary, however, if the colleges eliminated race from consideration in admissions altogether and just accepted the top applicants. And the argument over whether to accept only the top applicants is really relevant only at the most selective schools, where the talk about diversity receives the greatest amplification.

The assumption that a college education opens the door to success also assumes that the level of school determines the level of success. Although economists have turned this into the Kabul of assumptions, it still persists, and the top schools aren’t going to negate years of self-promotion to stop it. You won’t see this ad any time soon: “UNC-Chapel Hill graduates go on to prosperous careers in numerous fields, pretty much like the graduates of Western Carolina and N.C. A&T State, but U.S. News & World Report likes us better.”

In 1998 the Center for Equal Opportunity studied how ending racial and ethnic preferences (discriminating in the name of diversity) in admissions in North Carolina would affect minority enrollment. The CEO found that minority enrollment would fall at only the most selective UNC schools: UNC-CH, N.C. State, and UNC-Asheville. Importantly, however, they found that minority enrollment would increase at the other UNC schools. Not only would colorblind admissions not spell the end for minority enrollment in N.C., it wouldn’t even cause it to decrease.

Colorblind admissions would, however, help with minority graduation rates. Despite the myriad odes to diversity abounding on campus, nary even a couplet is penned for minority graduation rates. That’s because students admitted under lower standards struggle more with the academic work than those students admitted under the higher standards. A low graduation rate is the logical extension of a high acceptance rate of applicants who aren’t academically prepared for the work.

Under colorblind admissions, students would be accepted into schools in which they can handle the workloads. Those students will be more likely to graduate. The assumption that a college education opens the door to success itself assumes graduation. As the old sports dictum holds, success breeds success. If UNC schools moved to colorblind, merit-based admissions, more minorities would succeed on the collegiate level.