Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Prop 2 delayed

19. December 2006 • Chuck Warpehoski
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This just in, the Michigan Daily and Ann Arbor News report that a federal judge has delayed implementation of Prop 2 until July.

But, what happens after July? Will the U be able to maintain programs like WISE—Women in Science and Engineering? Will they implement a program to accept the top X% of high school grads in Michigan (to make our segregated school system a proxy for race)? Will they explore class-based affirmative action?

  1. So here’s what I’d like to see the Universities initiate — wealth-based affirmative action.

    Why wealth-based rather than income based? You see, I’m concerned both about racial justice and economic justice, and while the racial income gap has shrunk, the racial wealth gap remains large.

    I think wealth-based affirmative action would be an important part of a comprehensive opportunity expansion that would open the gates of elite higher education to people who are succeeding academically despite the challenges that students face if their families have low-icome, low-wealth, or do not have a history of college education.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 20 '06 - 01:27AM    #
  2. Isn’t there an implementation issue? To determine income, the University can simply require the student to supply the family’s federal income tax return. Wealth isn’t reported the same way, and is much easier to hide than income.

    And anyway, wealth can be frittered away through consumption. Consider (1) a high-spending two-career family living in a suburban McMansion with an income of $150,000, but with negative net worth, and (2) a frugal family with an income of $25,000, few debts, and some equity in a tiny house in Detroit. Whose kid should get admission preference?

    In any case, even access to the income tax data can be problematic. When I applied to grad school at Columbia University at the age of 33, they insisted on a copy of my father’s Form 1040, though I had been living on my own for years, and had no way to induce my father to part with his personal financial information. (I ultimately gave up on Columbia and went to Cornell instead.)

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Dec. 20 '06 - 04:07AM    #
  3. “Will they implement a program to accept the top X% of high school grads in Michigan (to make our segregated school system a proxy for race)?”

    Here’s a different take on such systems which doesn’t advocate for AA but sees these systems as even worse than traditional AA.

       —John Q.    Dec. 20 '06 - 04:20AM    #
  4. Ignoring eye-poppers like “Feb 17: The Midwest’s ‘Spring Break’ Models Search” on the Arbor Update calendar, I focus on Chuck’s query and note that for ages now, actually, UM has given socioeconomic points (used to be a full 20 points under the old UM undergrad admission points system), see, e.g., Proposal 2 Information on the UM website,

    “Q: Can U-M replace race- and gender-conscious programs with ones that focus on socioeconomic status?
    A: Socioeconomic status is already considered in our programs, including admissions and financial aid, and it continues to be a priority for us to make certain that opportunities are extended to all students regardless of their financial circumstances. But that doesn’t help us enroll a student body that is racially diverse. There are far more white students from low-income families applying to the university than minority students from low-income families. Socioeconomic status does not work as a proxy for race, and that has been shown clearly at other schools that have tried it. And it is not at all helpful in addressing participation on the basis of gender.”

    MCRI folks were pretty good at suggesting socioeconomic stuff “instead of” race stuff, and failing to mention that the socioeconomic stuff WAS THERE ALREADY.

    So much for candor.

       —David Boyle    Dec. 20 '06 - 04:56AM    #
  5. Larry’s point about measuring wealth is a good one. If I remember correctly, the FAFSA (student financial aid form) asks questions about wealth, but it might just be about liquid assets such as savings balances rather than things like real estate.

    If the U-M is to insitute an race-blinded admissions policy that strives to create a diverse campus and to extend opportunities to people who have had the deck stacked against them, I still think wealth would be a good component of a comprehensive system that could also include income and whether or not your parents graduated college.

    Of course, if we only look at integrating education at the college level and ignore the de-facto segration in our public schools, then we’re already too late.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Dec. 29 '06 - 03:24AM    #
  6. Court: no delay for Prop 2: “A federal appeals court ruled Friday evening that the University of Michigan and two other state universities should not have been granted a six-month extension to comply with certain provisions of Proposal 2….”

    Oh well.

       —Bruce Fields    Dec. 30 '06 - 08:25PM    #
  7. If U-M required an income tax form for admission, I believe many applicants would consider it an onerous and intrusive requirement. I don’t think that is a solution. Yes, those kinds of official materials are required for financial aid, but financial aid is handled after the admissions decision is made.

    FWIW, U-M no longer asks for the FAFSA for financial aid; it uses a different form that takes into account home equity and other assets.

    But back to admissions—as I understand it, socioeconomic status can be captured through a combination of things on the application. Students are asked to self-report an income range, along with parent’s education level and the number of dependents in the household. Students who are facing economic or other family hardships may address this in their essays, and this may also be mentioned in the counselor and/or teacher recommendations (as advocates, these folks want admitting offices to put the student’s performance in proper context). In some cases, the high school the students attends is also a clue; while it may not always be a sure indicator of SES status, it’s certainly clear what kind of academic opportunities the student had available at school.

    The income level, parent education, and # of dependents are new additions to the application form, added after the U changed the point system (under which, as has been pointed out, applicants could get as many points for low SES status as they could for being an underrepresented minority). It is still considered (although not via “points”) and the U now, clearly, has more information about it.

       —MomInPittsfield    Jan. 1 '07 - 03:29AM    #
  8. I think people are a bit confused here about UM is trying to do. UM could implement a system of preferences where students were given extra admissions points for various kinds of socio-economic disadvantages on a sliding scale — so lower family income, lower family wealth, lesser parental education, graduating from a poorer high school would all give applicants a leg up.

    But the problem with that is that it would tend to materially reduce the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of its student body and therefore threaten its US News ranking and status as an elite ‘public ivy’ — which it will simply not do.

    In fact, in general, UM does exactly the opposite — it gives preferences to students graduating from the most expensive private high schools and then to those from strong public high schools and so on. In general, it is important to remember that UM gives preferences to students from the strongest, richest private and public high schools, not the poorest, weakest ones because that is what elite institutions do to stay elite.

    Yes, UM did used to give 20 points for disadvantaged students, but the definition of ‘disadvantaged’ was restrictive enough that relatively few students qualified, and it definitely did not give a half benefit of 10 points for, say, working-class students from run-of-the-mill high schools. Why not? Because far too may applicants would have fallen into such a category and earned such a preference.

    Along the same lines, the UM wants racial diversity, yes, but not, in general, by admitting disadvantaged minority applicants but rather by admitting the most advantaged minority applicants it can find. Why? For the same reason it wants the most advantaged white and Asian students — namely, because these students will have better high school preparation, higher GPA, better test scores, will enhance UM’s ranking, and will have the greatest chance of succeeding.

    For the purposes of diversity, what UM wants are minority students who are as advantaged and elite as possible (without being so elite that Harvard and Yale grab them first). Without using skin color directly, it is very, very difficult to come up with a set of socio-economic preferences that would apply to these generally advantaged, middle class minority students without also giving them to a much larger number of white students.

       —mw    Jan. 4 '07 - 01:41AM    #
  9. I would like to clarify mw’s point by changing the term “minority” to “underrepresented minority”, as Asians are considered an overrepresented minority, and subsequently are perceived to have a yet even higher standard for admission than a white student.

       —jcp2    Jan. 4 '07 - 05:47AM    #