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Affirmative Action Admits Tend To Be More Successful Than Legacy Admits, Says Study

Researchers at Princeton University have found that students who received legacy admissions are more likely to face academic challenges than Blacks who were admitted under affirmative action admissions programs.

Despite their findings, the programs remain a target of critics, as anti-affirmative action groups look to duplicate the success of Michigan’s voter-approved ban on race-based preferences in college admissions. Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma are the next battlegrounds. 

In a study published in the February 2007 journal Social Problems, Princeton sociologists Douglas S. Massey and Margarita Mooney used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen to compile a sample of nearly 4,000 students at 28 colleges and universities. They found that 77 percent of the Black students surveyed were the beneficiaries of affirmative action. By comparison, 48 percent of all legacies benefited from admissions preferences.

After compiling the sample, Massey and Mooney developed models that test claims about the effects of affirmative action, specifically the mismatch hypothesis, which states that those who get racial preferences do poorly in school because they are under-prepared. Their study looked at the college performance of three groups: minorities, athletes and legacies, students given admission preferences because their parents attended that school.

The authors say they did not find strong evidence for the mismatch hypothesis among minorities. Overall, legacies had the best grades, earning a GPA of 3.26 over their first two years, followed by athletes at 3.12 and minorities at 3.05. Although they earned lower grades,  Blacks who received admissions preferences did not have unusually low grades and were as likely as other Blacks to stay in college and earn a degree.

However, legacies who enjoyed a greater admissions bonus earned lower grades. The greater the gap between a legacy’s SAT score and the institutional average, the lower grades they received. The odds of a legacy admit leaving school were higher when they posted lower grades than their schoolmates.

The gap between the SAT scores of Blacks and other non-affirmative action students did not mean Blacks would do poorly in school.  

“We’re not the first to make this argument,” Mooney tells Diverse. “Our data shows that although legacy admits have higher SAT scores and perform better overall, the small group of legacy admits that have smaller scores impact their GPAs.” 

According to a spokesperson for By Any Means Necessary, the study should silence critics of affirmative action, who are attempting to re-segregate the American education system and to afford Hispanics and Blacks “a second class, back of the bus education.”

“If [the critics] would pursue legacy and sports admissions, it would be far more productive to provide Latinos and Blacks a more equal opportunity in education,” says Shanta Driver.

Affirmative action proponents and critics are preparing for a new round of battles as other states decide whether to ban race-conscious programs in the government, which would include racial preferences in public college admissions. Colorado appears to be the next flashpoint.

Backed by Ward Connerly, a California businessman who has supported similar proposals that succeeded in California, Michigan and Washington, the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative announced plans Monday to put the measure on the 2008 ballot.

The proposal, set for its first review by legislative staffers this week, says that the state may not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to individuals or groups based on race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin. It would apply to hiring, contracts and public education.

Connerly says U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy and the swift reaction to Don Imus’ remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team show that the nation has come a long way since affirmative action programs were introduced in the 1960s. Connerly planned to meet with groups considering similar proposals in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona. 

He says he supports affirmative action based on people’s socioeconomic status and anti-discrimination laws. But he says race-based preferences in state colleges have been a disservice to students who struggle in flagship universities.

Meanwhile, in a separate study conducted by the National School Board Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education, it was found that the influence of race on success in school is often unacknowledged, even when teachers use it as a factor in predicting future success.

The survey “Where We Learn” found that just over half the teachers surveyed disagree or strongly disagree that students will be successful in their school based on race. However, 75.3 percent of the teachers said racial barriers to educational and economic opportunity continued to  exist in the United States. Approximately one out of every four teachers (23.6%) did not believe that the students at their school would be successful at a community college or university.

“The results from this study underscore the importance of a multiplicity of factors that make up school climate and the need to attend to these factors,” says Dr. Brian Perkins, lead author and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.

Although the survey was mostly positive — it found that most teachers and administrators have high expectations for students and care whether students are successful — a few areas do require further investigation, says the report.

These areas include why significant numbers of teachers and administrators hold the view that students in their schools are not motivated to learn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


By Shilpa Banerji

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