Forum

Affirmative action fails to reach underprivileged minority members

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In 2003, a white Michigan resident with a 3.8 GPA by the name of Grutter was denied entrance into the University of Michigan Law School.
She filed suit against the school on the basis that she had been denied due to her race. The ensuing landmark case of Grutter v. Bollinger failed to work in her favor and instead solidified the acceptance of using affirmative action in college admissions.

After the case, Carnegie Mellon released a statement maintaining that “the Court’s reasoning, which we share, is that diversity is a legitimate institutional goal.” With 49 percent of its student body listed as a racial minority on its admission page, Carnegie Mellon seems to have accomplished that goal. However, because of the social gains America has achieved in the past few decades, some of us may forget the original intent of affirmative action — to aid minority groups who previously suffered from economic disadvantages due to pre-existing racist institutions. In this aspect, affirmative action has come up short.

Affirmative action is a respectable idea in theory, but in practice it fails to effectively accomplish its objective of providing access to higher education for historically disenfranchised minorities. Statistically, the acceptance rates of minority groups have indeed improved. According to Jamillah Moore, president of Los Angeles City College, and the Harvard University “Fact Book,” UC San Diego admitted 32 percent more underrepresented students and Harvard admitted 7 percent more minority students after the implementation of affirmative action. However, these numbers are actually misleading because, as stated by Michigan State professor Peter Schmidt, “many of the students who gain admission to college through affirmative action are the children of either well-to-do professionals or well-educated recent immigrants.”

The problem primarily revolves around the fact that many minority students graduate from secondary schools without adequate skills to survive higher education. A more comprehensive solution would be to focus on economic policies that would first provide minority students with the means to attend better secondary schools so that they can then compete for a spot in an elite university. Programs such as Prep for Prep, a free New York education program for gifted students, are outstanding examples of such possibilities. Teaching students as early as fifth grade, Prep for Prep partners with various independent secondary schools to provide young students with the financial aid they need to attend high schools that were previously unaffordable.

Besides having a 14-month-long preparation program for students applying to independent high schools, Prep for Prep provides its students with college guidance, mentoring, and counseling. For future boarding school students, Prep for Prep even offers two summer camps at a boarding school to help their students familiarize themselves with the aspects of boarding life. What is really amazing about Prep for Prep, then, is that they not only prepare their students for the academics of college — currently, 92 percent of Prep for Prep alumni have earned degrees in outstanding universities, with 40 percent of Prep for Prep alumni graduating from Ivy League universities — but also for other facets of college life.

The only problem with Prep for Prep is simply that it does not offer this program to more students. Out of the 6,000 qualified students that apply, they only take 225. Interestingly enough, in 2000 Prep for Prep — along with the Goldman Sachs Foundation — initiated a program called New York Metro Region Leadership Academy (NYMRLA), where young students would be prepared for accelerated classes in high school through academic training courses. The program was shut down due to a lack of funding. Looking at the success that Prep for Prep has enjoyed, I do not know why there are not more of these programs around or why programs like NYMRLA do not get more funding. Maybe it’s because it is easier to simply increase minority enrollment in various universities than it is to create programs that would tackle the entrenched socioeconomic problems prevalent in cities. Or maybe it’s simply because people believe affirmative action is working and in the near future, it will no longer be needed.

In any case, affirmative action promises to provide equal opportunities, but fails to keep that promise.