Minorities Seen as Having Advantage to Access Higher Education

I’m coming at this from two distinct points of view: one, I have two kids in college; and two, I teach at a local community college.

On the one hand, I witnessed my kids’ dedication, sacrifice and hard work and know that their acceptance to universities was no fluke. On the other, I interact with students for whom community college is the only access they have to higher education.

So I’m at once astonished and dismayed at the findings of a study, titled “The Blind Side: Americans’ Perceptions of Inequalities in College Access,” to be presented at the anual conference of the American Educational Research Association. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

(The) study found that race and ethnicity played a profound role—and income or education level played little role at all—in determining views on college access. On the whole, Americans see minority students as having much greater advantages in seeking access to college than is actually the case, although white people are much more likely than black and Hispanic segments of the population to hold such a view.

Affirmative action has much to do with that mind-set. Or, I should say, pe0ple’s ideas about affirmative action have much to do with it.

Many American’s believe that middle class students are the “worst off” when it comes to gaining access to college, but that idea is more closely related to race, culture and ethnicity than it is to income level. And it makes sense, if you’re excluded from affirmative action because of race you’ll over estimate the effect of the  policy that excludes you. Especially if you didn’t get in to the college of your choice, it’s easy to blame minorities and affirmative action. This isn’t to say that some deserving minority students aren’t given special consideration, but the amount of consideration (or better stated, the number of students affected by the consideration) is not as large as people believe it is.

Nearly a fourth of respondents said qualified students who are racial and ethnic minorities have more opportunity to attend college than others. Just under a fifth said students from low-income families have an advantage over others, and about a 10th said qualified students from middle-class families are better off than others when it comes to college access.

The paper characterizes the study’s findings as revealing “reverse-discrimination sentiment.”

It’s all a matter of perspective. My students, many of whom are minority and most of whom are untraditional students who work during the day and go to class in the evening, will tell you that they’ve had no advantage in accessing higher education. They might even believe that non-minority students have an easier time at getting into the college of their choice.

Controlling for other factors, black and Hispanic respondents were more likely than white ones to think minorities face barriers, while white respondents were more likely than black or Hispanic ones to regard minority students as having an advantage.

The truth is that not enough Latinos are going to college. But it’s also true that not all students should be college bound. And affirmative action, by itself, will not produce the higher number of minority college graduates that we hope for. That’s the practical side of the discussion. And there is still much work to be done to get more Latinos in the college pipeline.

Perception is the other side of the conversation, and as Brian Powell, a professor of sociology at Indiana University at Bloomington and one of the coauthors of study, said:

Such divisions are important to take stock of, he argued, because people’s perceptions of advantage almost certainly shape their views on matters related to educational policy, as well as their own educational choices.

Follow Victor Landa on Twitter: @vlanda

[Photo by Jason Bach]

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