Society and Culture, Education

Correcting the New York Times on college ‘enrollment gaps’

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

In connection with the Supreme Court’s Fisher v. University of Texas decision, the New York Times published a misleading graphic. In States With Affirmative Action Bans, How Minorities Have Fared compared black and Hispanic enrollments at top-tier state schools with the percent of total college age black and Hispanic students in that state. Thus, at University of California-Berkeley, one of the nation’s most elite colleges, as of 2011, 49% of college-aged California residents, but only 11% of enrolled freshmen, were Hispanic, creating a 38% “enrollment gap.” (For blacks, the figures are 9%, 2%, and 7%, respectively).

The Times cooks the numbers in two ways. First, the definition of “minority” is never explained, which has the ideologically convenient effect of excluding Asians, a nonwhite minority group, whose access to elite schools increased with the end of affirmative action. As Mark Perry noted in 2009 (quoting Admissions and Public Higher Education in California, Texas, and Florida: The Post-Affirmative Action Era):

The data suggest that Asian-American students in California were the major beneficiaries of Proposition 209 in California. At UC-Berkeley, for example, Asian-American enrollment (“first time in college” enrollment) jumped from 37.30% in 1995 to 43.57% in 2000 following the implementation of Proposition 209, . . .  reaching 46.59% at UC-Berkeley . . . (in 2008).

Second, the Times implicitly assumes that enrollment by race and ethnicity at an elite school like Berkeley should track the percentage in the college-age population. But students going to college should at least be college-ready, and there the numbers are very different. California Grade 12 enrollment in 2011 was 47.1% Hispanic and 7.7% black, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. But in 2011, only 26.7% of Hispanic high school graduates and 27.5% of blacks had completed college preparatory courses, according to California Basic Educational Data System statistics. Comparable figures were 63.0% for Asian-Americans and 43.9% for whites.

Completing college preparatory courses is not the same as being ready for UC-Berkeley. But even assuming that is the appropriate standard, only 35.2% of the California 2011 college-ready population was Hispanic and 5.9% was black. (21.4% was Asian-American). This reduces the Times’ enrollment gaps by about a third.

There is no reason to assume that enrollment at elite colleges should track race and ethnicity. Even if one shares that ideal, the K-12 education system is not producing enough Hispanic and African-American graduates in a position to fulfill it.

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