PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 187 | Affirmative Action Ends. Now What?

How (or will) the end of affirmative action impact college admissions?

Show Notes:

In this episode, I do my best to review the recent Supreme Court ruling that ended affirmative action in college admissions and opine on what it might mean for your child's prospects going forward.  

Show Transcript:

Hello and welcome to the PrepWell Podcast. The place to be if your child wants to attend a top tier college, a military service academy, or they want to earn an ROTC or athletic scholarship. I'm Phil Black, your host. And my job is to prepare you and your child for this amazing journey. So sit back, buckle up and prepare to prepare.

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Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I will discuss as best I can the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions and how it might impact you and your child in the coming years. Certainly, this is a topic that is complicated. It can be politically charged and it can be fraught with a lot of emotions and there are many other sources that will cover this topic in much greater detail.

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But for practical reasons, I'm going to try to keep this podcast, like many others, to about 20 minutes, because I know that 20 minutes seems to be about the right amount of time it takes to drive to piano lessons or to lacrosse practice or to a swim meet. And I hope you'll be able to squeeze it in on one of these trips.

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Also, I am not a lawyer and there are nuances and case precedent that have been debated for decades. And I'm not going to pretend that I'm going to address each one of these. This is just going to be an overview to give you a flavor of what's going on. As you may have heard, the Supreme Court recently ruled 6 to 3 that colleges can no longer use race to advantage certain students over other students in the college admissions process.

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The cases were brought against Harvard and USC. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. And it was found that their admissions practices were unconstitutional and deprived students, particularly Asian-American students of their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, which suggests that all human beings, regardless of their race, are to be treated equally under the law. Okay, so what does this mean in practical terms?

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One of the statistics that was brought to light during the hearings and one that I think we can all relate to, was the fact that an Asian-American student had to score 272 points higher on the S.A.T.. Then did a black American to have an equal chance of getting admitted to Harvard. In other words, if a black applicant scored a 1300 on the S.A.T., the Asian-American needed at least a 1570 on the S.A.T. to have the same chances of being admitted.

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That's quite a dramatic difference in scores. And after reviewing and debating the statistics, it became clear that black students were given an edge when it came to admissions. And nobody was denying this. Black Americans didn't have to get as high in SAT score as students of other races, particularly Asian and white Americans. And this was in the end, found to be unconstitutional.

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And I can add here, by the way, anecdotally that I have heard many similar stories from college coaches in my extensive work with recruited athletes. A college coach will tell a white player that he needs to get at least a 1450 on the S.A.T. to get the support of the admissions department, but will turn around and tell a black player that he only needs a 1200 to get through admissions without considering what either student brings to the table in terms of upbringing or family situation or socioeconomic circumstances.

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It was just whether the student was white or black that was the defining characteristic. And just as a side note, by the way, the UC system where I live in California, the University of California system, did away with affirmative action in the state of California over 20 years ago. So this ruling is not without precedent. It's just that now California's policy of no affirmative action applies across the whole country, not just to California and to both public and private institutions.

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Another quick caveat is that this ruling does not apply to military service academies. The Naval Academy, West Point, Air Force Academy, etc., which are still allowed to use race in their admissions criteria. Before we get into how this might affect or not affect your child, let's do a quick review of the arguments on both sides, the pro affirmative action side, that is those who think that black Americans should specifically be pushed to the head of the line, even if they're not as qualified, has two basic arguments.

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Argument number one is the reparative argument. And argument number two is the diversity argument. There are others, of course, but these seem to be the two that are cited most often the reparative argument derived from the word reparations says that black Americans deserve a leg up on other races in the admissions process to make up for the discriminations they faced in the past.

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For example, slavery being the most obvious case and the discrimination that some people believe that black Americans still face today. Black Americans should be given opportunities today to make up for past discrimination, even if they don't have the test scores, the grades or other merits to justify these opportunities. This is one of the classic arguments for affirmative action.

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Then there's the diversity argument. The diversity argument claims that diversity is our strength. You've probably heard that many times, particularly in the higher education setting, that students at universities need to hear from a broad range of students with different backgrounds and life experiences and races and cultures and religions and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to have a worthwhile education.

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It's not a true education without the mosaic of different people, of different colors and with different perspectives. The learning environment would suffer greatly if all of these different voices and perspectives weren't heard. Okay, now let's switch the other side. On the other hand, opponents of affirmative action have a different perspective with respect to reparative policy. These opponents of affirmative action believe that it is time to stop the artificial boosting of some races over others based on past discrimination practices that have long been outlawed.

00;07;06;18 - 00;07;39;10

That now is the time to reassert the 14th Amendment, which is explicitly forbids discrimination due to skin color, and that a continuation of affirmative action is actually doing more harm than good for all parties involved Blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics. These proponents wonder when will enough be enough? When is the end point? At what point do we say that black Americans have been given enough of a leg up to make up for the past wrongs?

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Right now, the status quo is that there is no end point and no one has proposed any rationale for when that end point might be reached. And these anti affirmative action folks cite a few examples to illustrate what they see as the challenges with leaving affirmative action in place indefinitely. Example number one a thought experiment. What if Major League Baseball decades ago decided that black pitchers only needed two strikes to strike out a white batter instead of three strikes, or that black batters were allowed four strikes instead of three strikes before they struck out?

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What would that have done to the game of baseball? Well, presumably it would not have produced the amazing black baseball players that we see today because black baseball players would never have been challenged to play. At the same level as the white players, nor were they ever have been respected or considered full fledged baseball talents because they would be enjoying this unfair advantage indefinitely.

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And as such, any great feats of skill or mastery by a black player would have an asterisk next to it. And what do you think a two tiered system like this would have done to race relations between black and white baseball players under these conditions? The other issue, they argue, is that when affirmative action is in place, the black Americans who get admitted to highly prestigious colleges and are legitimately standout students who have outstanding grades and SAT scores and AP scores often get painted with the same brush as the affirmative action black students to the point where no one is quite sure how to treat them.

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The general public may sadly find themselves looking at all black students with a raised eyebrow thinking, Hmm, I wonder how that student got into that college and how frustrating it must be for that black student who's been busting his or her ass to be a top performer and not getting any of the credit for it and having to live under this cloud of people doubting their abilities.

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And the pain doesn't stop with the high performing black students. It hits both ways. The high performing black student doesn't get the credit for being highly qualified because everyone questions why they were admitted. And even worse, the low performing affirmative action student who may feel good about getting into a prestigious college at first struggles mightily with the academic material over time because they never had the academic horsepower to succeed, and they end up spending the next four years feeling like an impostor who doesn't belong.

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And many times they fail out of college or they change their majors. This turns out to be a lose lose proposition when it comes to the diversity is our strength argument. Those opposing affirmative action have to wonder how much of this concept the proponents actually believe of and how much of it is just sloganeering. After all, if diversity of races and religions and perspectives and lived experiences are absolutely critical for educating tomorrow's students, why are HBCU's historically black colleges and universities becoming so popular and being held up as models of higher education?

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These schools are the opposite of diversified. How could this possibly represent a worthwhile educational experience when everyone is of the same race, something that it actively tries to eliminate in other colleges? And why do we see more and more colleges opening up segregated dorm rooms where all the black students live together? We see more and more colleges offering black only graduation ceremonies.

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Why are there reports that black students on many campuses are intentionally not integrating with the greater student body and their living exclusively with other black students? And they spend most of their time in black only student unions and cultural houses. They take only courses in African-American history or urban studies or ethnic studies. The anti-affirmative action folks wonder how pro affirmative action groups can reconcile these growing trends within the college communities with the diversity is our strength mantra.

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Okay, so those are the general arguments for and against affirmative action. And I suspect you will come down on one side or the other or maybe somewhere in between. The big question is how will this or will this affect my child? Well, it depends on a few things, as you can imagine. The race of your child, where you live, which colleges and universities they're applying to.

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The political leaning of the state of the college they're applying to and many other factors. If you live in the Northeast, for example, I wouldn't hold my breath that there will be any changed at all in the near or medium term. Why? Because many schools in the Northeast believe deeply in affirmative action. It's part of their mission. It's part of their culture.

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It's part of their political worldview. And they have publicly. Even after the Supreme Court's decision, vowed to use other means other than strict race based criteria to admit whomever they want to admit. Despite the new laws. Now, they may have to get creative in how they do it in order to sidestep the law. But they claim that they're going to find a way.

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By way of example, it took California over ten years to get their diversity numbers back up to where they wanted them to be after affirmative action was struck down. 20 years ago, they slowly but surely found other means to admit the composition of students that they wanted to. Without explicitly using the race checkbox as a way to push some students to the front of the line.

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And in those states which have a court system that is clearly friendly to affirmative action ideals. Who's going to bother bringing a lawsuit against the college for going against the new law, knowing that they will likely lose if they go to court? Not that many people. If, on the other hand, you live in an area with a conservative circuit Court of Appeals.

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Maybe you'll see some changes sooner rather than later because people will be more likely to investigate the college's admissions practices and potentially sue colleges and universities for undermining the law because they have a better chance of winning the suit. Or the colleges in those districts and regions are more friendly to the anti-affirmative action stance. So in the end, will it be materially easier for high performing Asian-Americans or white American students to get into elite colleges?

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Maybe. Theoretically, if they are being pushed aside to make room for lower performing black students, how quickly could we see a change in these admissions practices? That's anyone's guess. It will likely be determined by the will of the college to live up to these new rules. Their attempts to skirt around the rules by keeping the status quo as is.

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Will colleges and university classes soon be made up of 85%? High performing Asian-American students who perform well on a standardized test? Probably not. But it should make it harder to penalize high performing applicants to make room for lower performing black students. What about the black students? Well, it may mean that not as many underqualified black students get their shot to attend highly selective colleges that can be thought of as a lost opportunity or an injustice, or the dawn of a new era whereby merit once again becomes the metric that determines who gets in and who doesn't.

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The good news will be presumably that over time the dark cloud hanging over the heads of high performing black students will clear and they will finally get their day in the sun whereby nobody will ever question their abilities ever again. Nobody knows for sure what the reality will be going forward. Maybe change happens overnight. Maybe it takes a few years.

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Maybe it takes a few decades. Maybe it doesn't change things at all. There may be colleges who immediately move from a test optional policy to a test blind policy like California has done so that they don't have to answer for discrepancies in SAT scores and admission rates. So they don't have to explain why Asian-Americans have to score 270 points higher than black Americans to have an equal chance of admissions.

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They'll just get rid of the metrics so that the admissions practices are more opaque. Some people think that colleges are poised to do that right away. This will help them avoid getting sued because there'll be no data to connect the low SAT scores to the admissions rates of certain races. Do I think this decision will materially change where your child applies to college or their chances of getting into a certain college?

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Well, it depends on the college. It depends on your child's profile, of course, and how they fill out their applications, their essays, their letters of recommendation. If you are an underperforming black student relative to the college, you're applying to, for example, applying to an Ivy League school with a 1200 essay. This new ruling may hurt your chances. That would be the point of the change.

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If you are a high performing Asian-American student applying to a highly selective college, for example, applying to an Ivy League school with a 1570 S.A.T., it may improve your chances of getting in where you would have been displaced before. Understanding, of course, that there are many more factors than just SAT scores. In the end, it may take a few years before this impact is felt, if it's felt at all.

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And as you've probably heard on the heels of this decision, there are now groups that are anxious to get rid of legacy admissions and athlete preferences in college admissions, which will, as you would imagine, open up another big can of worms. But we'll have to leave that fun topic to a different day. Of course, if you'd like to discuss any of these issues in more detail with your child's specific situation in mind, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.

00;18;53;00 - 00;19;23;17

We can set up a Zoom call and try to hash out any lingering questions or concerns you might have. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Case, you didn't know this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC anesthetics scholarships.

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PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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