New study urges consideration of race in college admissions

The use of standardized tests in college admissions has created much controversy in recent years.  Do test scores predict college success? Are the tests fair to minorities and poor applicants?  Are applicants, whose parents did not attend college, at a disadvantage?  Some schools have stopped requiring standardized tests. But most colleges and universities still require that applicants take either the SAT or the ACT.

Statistics show that three factors lead to lower SAT scores for minority students:  race, family income, and parental education levels.  Saul Geiser, of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley, conducted an analysis of SAT scores of applicants to the University of California from 1994 through 2011. The study concludes that race and ethnicity have become stronger predictors of SAT scores than family income and parental education levels.

Mr. Geiser suggests that segregated high schools and poor resources at those schools may explain the influence of race and class.  While that may be correct, the suggested solution is clearly wrong.  Mr. Geiser proposes that the University of California “go back to what it did when it adopted the SAT, but which the state’s voters have barred it from doing today: considering race in admissions.”  This, of course, is a reference to Proposition 209–adopted by the voters as an amendment to the State constitution–which precludes the consideration of race or ethnicity in public education.

Affirmative action is sometimes viewed as the one and only way to increase the admission rates of minority students.  But that should not be so because the UC campuses, like all  colleges and universities, could increase the number of minority students without resorting to preferences or quotas.  They could stop requiring that applicants submit standardized test scores.  Or they could conduct outreach programs in economically disadvantaged areas.  That would not violate Proposition 209, but surely would help prospective minority applicants.  Or, admission standards, including the range of acceptable test scores and high school grades, could be changed so that more students of all races would be eligible for admission to the UC schools.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, summed up his take on the UC study as follows:  “If a test is unreliable for certain races — and this has long been alleged and long been refuted for the SAT, by the way — then a school is perfectly justified in not using it, but it should try to find other measures that are reliable.  What it should not do is admit students who are less qualified under any measure to in order to reach a particular racial result.”