March 26, 2017

College Admissions Continues Its Politically Correct Decline

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld the right of universities to discriminate based on race in their admissions process, and president Obama circumvented federal law by allotting 30 million dollars worth of Pell grant money to ex convicts.

To be more specific about racial admissions, the Supreme court further legitimized a system in which, in Elite universities, a Black university applicant is over 5 times more likely to be accepted than an equally qualified White one.

The justification for so called “race conscious” admissions processes, in which Black and Hispanic students are more likely than equally qualified White and Asian students to be admitted into a university, was that such policies are necessary in-order to ensure that campuses have a sufficiently diverse student population.

1. The Blessings of Diversity

There is no evidence that “diversity” makes a class room better. Quite the opposite, actually. According to a report issued by the Department of Education, the more a student population is comprised of Blacks, the worse Black and White students tend to do on standardized tests.

Mean NAEP Score by Race by Density of Black Student Population.png

White students are not “enriched” by Black diversity. They are harmed by it. Of course, the Whites who lose their place in a university and thus have their lives permanently harmed for the sake of Black people aren’t helped either.

Back in the 1960’s, when these policies were first adopted, they were instituted in-order to make up for the harmful effects of slavery and discrimination. However, the claim that Black’s, today, are uneducated because of slavery and racism does not hold up to empirical scrutiny.

2. Original Sin

The most obvious way to measure the impact of slavery is to compare the descendant of slaves to the descendant of free Blacks. When enslaved Blacks were initially freed, they were less literate and less educated than free Blacks. However, by 1920 their grandchildren were just as literate and educated as the grandchildren of free Blacks. Thus, there is a case to be made that slavery damaged the educational attainment of Blacks for a good 60 years. That is a real effect that is historically important. But this effect also ended roughly 100 years ago.

Still, some might object, even if slavery doesn’t explain modern black failures in education, perhaps White people being generally mean to Black people does. After all, that would impact the grandchildren of all Blacks, not just enslaved ones.

For instance, many people think that Blacks do poorly in education because they go to bad schools. These schools, in turn, are bad because they are not properly funded.

There is a big problem with this narrative: per pupil, we spend more on Black students than on White students.

At this point, people might be tempted to refer racism that is simply “in the air”. This racism has nothing to do with school funding or any other concrete mechanism. Instead, it has to do with bad looks, being called names, ect.

This idea is not easy to test. However, most people would agree that the South East of the United States has more of this kind of racism than the rest of the country does. Thus, we might expect that academic gaps between Blacks and Whites would be especially large in the south.

They’re not. The Black/White gap in education scores is basically the same in Southern and non-Southern states.

3. Collegiate Convicts

The argument about prisoner’s is not explicitly racial. However, given that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Whites and Asians to be incarcerated, Blacks and Hispanics will be more likely than Whites and Asians to receive conviction based Pell grants. This perpetuates a broader pattern of discrimination within the US: Whites are generally less likely than non-Whites to be given grants for school.

The president has allotted 30 million dollars towards pell grants for prisoners. The justification for this move is that prisoners are less likely to return to prison when they are put into educational programs. Thus, this program may actually save tax payers money.

The problem with this argument is that it is based on a review of the benefits of all sorts of educational programs to prisoners. The fact that someone can benefit from remedial high-school classes or a trade school does not imply that they will flourish an a university.

Moreover, this justification does nothing to justify the experience of a poor law abiding citizen who won’t be able to go to college because the money they would have otherwise gotten from a Pell grant was given to a criminal. Even if this program does save the government money, there is no reason to assume that congress will reinvest the savings (lessened debt) into Pell grants for non-criminals.

4. People are Different

The fundamental problem with both of these acts of government is that they ignore a fundamental cause of differences in educational attainment: differences in ability.

Individual differences in self control and intelligence are known to predict differences in various life outcomes, including education. This is hardly surprising, it is extremely obvious that intelligence and self discipline are needed in school

It is also known that criminals are, on average, less intelligent and less self disciplined than non-criminals. This implies that criminals will be less able to do well in college than non criminals even when both groups are given the same opportunity.

Similarly, it has been shown time and time again that, compared to Whites, Blacks score worse on measures of intelligence and self discipline.

Here is what Black rates of educational attainment would look like if Blacks had the same average IQ as White people do:

College completion(Herrnstein and Murray 1994)

Thus, racial differences in ability, rather than racism, seems to explain why Blacks are less likely than whites to have a college degree.

Unfortunately, I don’t have similar data for convicts. However, thinking that differences in ability play no role in their lower rates of education is Utopian thinking not grounded in reality.  There is simply no good reason to expect one population to do as well as another in school when one group is smarter and more self disciplined than the other.

As we have seen, people who currently go to college are smarter and more self disciplined, on average, than those who do not. Because of this, getting more of the people who currently do not go to college into universities will lead to more college students with relatively low levels of intelligence and self control. This, in turn, will either lead to more people dropping out of college or a lowering of educational standards, or both.

5. Ignoring Differences Has Consequences

Currently, racial differences in educational attainment go something like this:

Blacks are a little bit more likely than Whites to drop out of high-school:


Black and White high-school graduates enroll into colleges at about the same rate:


Casselman (2014)

However, Black (and Hispanic) college students are far more likely to drop out of college than Whites (and Asians) are:

College Dropouts by Race.png


Census (2015)

And so you end up with a racial disparity in degree holding that looks like this:

College Degree Rate by Race.png

Ryan and Bauman (2016)


Unfortunately, you also end up with a college debt distribution that looks like this:

Poor black students have almost $8,000 more college debt than their white counterparts

Reeves (2016)

In other words, Whites are more likely than Blacks to have a college degree largely because they are more likely than Blacks to finish high-school and especially college. This is probably because of the previously discussed racial differences in ability. Once the differences are controlled for, racial gaps in education disappear.

Race based admissions programs do nothing to address these problems. Instead, they simply pack more Blacks into college. Because Blacks who get into college via affirmative action are less prepared for college, on average, than Blacks who get there based on merit, it is probable that more than half of Blacks admitted into college on the basis of affirmative action never get a degree. They do, however, get a mountain of student debt.

A similar story can probably be told about prisoners. Data in this area is lacking but, chances are, a significant proportion of those that get this convict based Pell grant will simply be unable to complete college. They will waste years of their life and come away with nothing.

When we ignore differences in ability we act as if anyone can do anything. This is a cruel lie to tell. There are plenty of respectable, well paying, careers which do not require a college degree. Many people are best fit for these jobs and there is nothing wrong with that. By encouraging them to go to college we only set them up for failure, and discriminate against Whites, Asians, and, now,  non-criminals, in the process.


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