Preferential Treatment in College Admissions — There’s More Than Just Affirmative Action

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Discussion of the fairness of affirmative action in college admissions has resurfaced now that arguments over the practice are being heard by the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas. Now, if you’re a white college applicant — or the parent of one — it’s hard not to bristle at the possibility, however unlikely, that your application would be rejected on the basis of race. But it may interest you to learn that affirmative action is only one of several paths to preferential treatment in the admissions process. And all others tend to favor whites.

In his 2006 book, The Price of Admission, Daniel Goldkin lays out the other preferred groups: recruited athletes, legacies, development cases, children of celebrities and politicians, and children of faculty members. These groups could compromise as much as half the student body, maybe more. So if you’re a qualified white student unfairly denied admission to a university, it’s more likely that your spot was taken by an academically lacking athlete or the child of an alumnus, than a student chosen for her minority background.

The chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley once calculated how many admission spaces were actually being awarded on the basis of pure academic merit in any given. He decided it was something like 40 percent of them.



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