Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Raising the Bar for Middle-Class Blacks: New Admissions Rules Hit Suburban Blacks Hard

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Raising the Bar for Middle-Class Blacks: New Admissions Rules Hit Suburban Blacks Hard

Article excerpt

Raising the Bar for Middle-Class Blacks: New Admissions Rules Hit Suburban Blacks Hard

Next month, Jenna Bond-Louden will board a plane for North Carolina where she and other college seniors will spend all day learning to write a college essay that will wow admissions officers. Her parents have already shelled out hundreds of dollars for the Baltimore senior to take SAT prep classes.

There is nothing unusual about a high school student gearing up for the high-stakes admissions game except that Bond-Louden, a Friends School of Baltimore senior, is Black. Her mother, Karen Bond, the director of the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust, says that she never taught Jenna that her race would get her into some of the country's elite colleges. It is a message that she and other educators are trying to spread among middle-class Black parents: that at an increasing number of selective colleges and universities affirmative action is no longer available to help their children gain admission.

"The acceptances are not a given anymore," says Bond, whose program places Black students in private high schools. "These seats are not a given anymore and I don't know how many [Black] parents know that. They hear it as a distant phenomenon, but it is not yet a part of their lives."

University officials say the new race-neutral admissions guidelines still allow them to give extra admissions points to Black students from poor families who have succeeded despite graduating from troubled high schools. But increasingly middle-income Black students who do not have similar disadvantages must compete on the basis of their test scores and grades.

Referenda and court decisions banning the use of race in admissions affect public colleges and universities in only a handful of states like Texas, California and Washington. And many private colleges are still aggressively courting academically talented Black students because university officials say they believe diversity is essential to their institutions. But university officials have increasingly come under fire for the practice of admitting Black students whose test scores are lower than those of White students.

What is particularly vexing is the persistent gap in achievement between Black and White students of comparable middle-class socioeconomic status. According to figures provided by the College Board, Black students whose parents have at least one graduate degree score an average of 191 points lower on the S.A.T. than White students whose parents also hold a graduate degree.

New Strategies Needed

As university officials nervously watch for the outcome in the University of Michigan affirmative action case, Black parent groups and some admissions officials are calling for a new strategy for Black middle-class students. It entails hitting the books, acing the SAT and signing up for anything that will help them stand out from the thousands of other college applicants.

"The people that really got hurt are the middle-income Black and Hispanic students," says Rae Lee Siporin, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of California at Los Angeles. "They are not poor and they are not disadvantaged. There's no way to distinguish...between nice middle-class kids that just have good record."

Siporin speaks from more than 20 years of experience. Annually, she and her staff offer freshman admission to only 10,000 of the 35,000 students who apply. Under the current admissions policy UCLA, she says, is more likely to admit a Black student who comes from a poor family and has done well despite attending a mediocre high school.

"Middle-income groups, but particularly African-Americans, are not necessarily going to be picked out," Siporin says.

In 1998, the first year the university's affirmative action ban was applied to freshman admissions, the University of California-Berkeley denied admission to 750 minority students with 4.0 grade point averages and SAT scores of at least 1200. …

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