With the gap between rich and poor students at elite colleges widening, affirmative action is an issue that is often on people’s minds. Whether you’re for or against it, chances are there are many people who agree with you.
Affirmative action is one of the most effective social policies in higher education. With virtually all of the growth in college admissions over the last several decades among the highest social classes, affirmative action gives needy students with potential a chance at earning a college degree. Rather than using affirmative action policies that focus on race, however, these policies should focus on income and social class. In fact, studies show that there is less economic diversity than racial diversity at America’s most selective colleges.
Income determines many things pertaining to education. In most cases, students with lower household incomes attend schools with dilapidated facilities, a limited number of advanced and AP courses and a lack of music and art classes. Many of these students live in neighborhoods and families where few, if any, members have experience with higher education. Without the adequate support that is needed to encourage a student to attend college, either by parent or teacher, few of these students will end up going. I’m not just talking about children of African American, Hispanic or other underrepresented minorities. There are many “majority” students who live in poverty, as well.
The problem with making college admission decisions by race is that income is often overlooked. Affirmative action may benefit students of certain races who are seen as having a harder time being admitted into college, but where does that leave the student from a poor family (regardless of race) who doesn’t necessarily have top grades, but has the potential to succeed ? These are the true victims of affirmative action, not the well-off students who complain of being ousted from a space at Harvard because an underrepresented minority student “took their spot.”
Shockingly, the percentage of students from the lowest income brackets who earn college degrees has not changed in three decades and stands at a measly six percent. In most cases, a college degree is essential to upward mobility. And, to break the cycle of poverty that many students endure, college is a must. According to a recent survey, an estimated 25 percent of low income students who have the grades and test scores to qualify for college don’t even bother applying.
UR has done a commendable job in selecting low income students to attend. We are one of the top private schools enrolling students who qualify for Pell Grants, with around 17 percent of the undergraduate class receiving grants according to recent statistics. But, Pell Grants only cover, on average, around 40 percent of college costs. More needs to be done to make college affordable for students, and income-based affirmative action is a good start.
Kraus is a member ofthe class of 2009.