The Fisher oral argument: Academic mismatch

Next, week, on October 10, 2012, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas.  As the parties discuss whether the University of Texas can justify its race-conscious admissions policy, one topic sure to arise is academic mismatch.

Academic mismatch begins when elite universities lower their academic standards to admit a more racially diverse student population.  Schools one or two academic tiers below must then do likewise, since the minority students who might have attended those lower ranking universities based on their own academic record are instead attending the elite colleges.  The problem is further passed down to the fourth and fifth tiers of universities, which respond similarly.  The result is a significant gap in academic credentials between minority and non-minority students at all levels.   Study after study reveals that racial preferences in college admissions result in this academic mismatch that leads to lower grades and higher drop-out rates among minority students – the very students these preferences are intended to benefit.  Roger Clegg, from the Center for Equal Opportunity, talks about two new books coming out soon dealing with academic mismatch here.

But academic mismatch is not a new theory.  It was predicted even before race-conscious admission policies became entrenched at leading universities. 

In 1970, Professor Summers wrote:

 If Harvard or Yale, for example, admit minority students with test score 100 to 150 points below that normally required for a nonminority student to get admitted, the total number of minority students to get a legal education is not increased thereby.  The minority students given such preference would meet the normal admissions standards at Illinois, Rutgers or Texas.  Similarly, minority students given preference at Pennsylvania would meet normal standards at Pittsburg; those given preference at Duke would meet normal standards at North Carolina, and those given preference at Vanderbilt would meet normal standards at Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia.  Thus, each law school, by its preferential admission, simply takes minority students away from other schools whose admissions standards are further down the scale. . . . In sum, the policy of preferential admission has a pervasive shifting effect, causing large numbers of minority students to attend law schools whose normal admission standards they do not meet, instead of attending other law schools whose normal standard they do meet.

Clyde W. Summers, Preferential Admissions: An Unreal Solution to a Real Problem, U. Tol. L. Rev. 377, 384 (1970).  Research continues to confirm Summers’ predictions.

Racial preferences in college admissions results in more harm to minority students, than good.  No matter where academic mismatch occurs, at elite Ivy League universities, or state colleges, lower grades lead to lower levels of academic self-confidence, which in turn increases the likelihood that minority students will lose interest in continuing their education and drop out.  Thus, generations of minority students who would have succeeded without race-based admission policies have been forced to struggle because of academic mismatching.  The good news is that eliminating racial preferences in student admissions will eradicate academic mismatch and restore confidence and success to students of all races.  As Justice Roberts proclaimed in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”