I noticed a trackback from a blog I had not come across before, “Notes from Off-Center” by Andrew Tatusko. Not only is his article
Racism, or Leveling the Merit Field? and excellent explanation of why such programs are not racism (saving me a LOT of work and showing much more patience than I have), but all of his blog is excellent. It even has a gorgeous WordPress template (look for it coming here soon!).
I will not rehash Andrew’s comments but I will say that he is spot on. We are currently in the midst of our admissions at the honors college and dealing with just these sorts of issues. I will cite one example of a less than obvious racial, really economic, inequality. Students who attend a poorly supported public school will not be given the opportunities to prepare for SATs and won’t have the money to take prep courses on their own. The result is very low SAT scores for students in this category. They tend to be minorities (African-American and Hispanic) because these groups are those most likely to be in such schools and economic situations, but there are white students that we see fitting this profile as well, especially in the rural areas of PA. As a result, we [the Schreyer Honors College] do not consider SAT scores in our admissions process (PSU as an institution does, however; they are dealing with close to 100,000 applications!). Instead we have several essays and evaluate their transcripts for quality and difficulty.
I should be clear, our approach is not to give preference to students from a particular background rather it is to remove a barrier, one that is largely useless at indicating a student’s potential. This past year we took in several students with SATs at 1100 or lower, but who had outstanding grades and showed keen intellect and outstanding character. After one semester, taking the full and regular honors course load, they averaged 3.9. Not bad.