Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Studies Refute Perceptions of Open Admissions and Educational Attainment

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Studies Refute Perceptions of Open Admissions and Educational Attainment

Article excerpt

Ultimately, the question of affirmative action will not be decided in the Supreme Court but by the public, which has been barraged by arguments that no matter what can be said about fairness and justice, affirmative action -- and even desegregation -- "just doesn't work."

After a generation of affirmative action and desegregation, the argument goes, average SAT scores are dropping and there are still racial tensions on campuses.

But interesting new data and analyses are slowly building a different picture about the last two decades of education that point to different conclusions.

One of the newest pieces of information comes from a long-term study done of the open admissions policy at City University of New York, arguably one of the biggest experiments in affirmative action in the country. In 1970, any student with a high school grade point average of 80 or more or who graduated in the top half of a high school graduating class could enter one of the university's four-year colleges. Students with an average of 70 were admitted into the two-year community colleges. More than 34,000 students poured into CUNY, up from 17,645 a year before. In one year the enrollment in the university system went from 9 percent minority to 24 percent.

The failures of the open admissions policy have been catalogued extensively -- that those admitted under the open admissions policy were simply invited to fail as seen by high drop-out rates and extremely high remediation rates. Poorly prepared for college work, the students were easily discouraged and, in fact, managed to drag down the quality of the entire university, the argument went. It has become almost axiomatic that the open admissions policy was a disaster.

But when those same students are followed for more than a couple of years, a different picture emerges, according to a new study that will be published by Yale University Press this month, "Changing the Odds -- Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the Disadvantaged."

In that study, conducted by David E. Lavin and David Hyllegard, it appears that although students admitted under the open admissions standards typically take longer -- six to eight years is not uncommon 56 percent of them do graduate and about 18 percent go on for post-graduate work.

"Once they get the bug, they've got to go back," is the way Rand researcher David Grissmer reacted when he heard of the study.

Grissmer has been working on data that fits together another piece of the educational picture.

His findings, presented to the annual conference of the Education Writers Association in late April -- some of which had been previously published and some of which is due to be published soon -- are that the educational achievement of Black students has been increasing rapidly over the past twenty years. It is particularly dramatic in the South, which desegregated over those years. The South is where white students made the biggest gains as well.

In addition, he looked at the demographic factors that are important in educational achievement, and he found that what matters most is the educational attainment of the parents. Family income and whether the student had a single parent or a working mother had some effect, but the most important single demographic effect was educational attainment of the parents. The other important demographic factor is the size of families.

In other words, if a student comes from a small family where college is a tradition, he or she is more likely to succeed educationally. …

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