Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

7

Positive discrimination in admissions to higher educational institutions

In shifting the focus of my analysis of positive discrimination (PD) to the specific context of university admissions, I need first to adapt the arguments and claims made about PD policies in general (introduced in Chapter 3) to this new context. I begin by examining the impact that PD policies can be expected to have on the composition of students enrolled at the university level. Then I discuss how some of the arguments and claims formulated in Chapter 3 need to be modified to fit the higher educational context. Finally, I explore in some depth several of the arguments for and against PD policies in university admissions, in cases where considerable light can be shed on the validity of the arguments by a priori reasoning.


The impact of PD policies on university enrollments

To understand the consequences of PD policies in the sphere of higher education, it is essential to begin with a clear understanding of what impact such policies have on the composition of students enrolled in universities. Different PD policies will of course have different impacts. My purpose here is simply to discuss the way in which any PD admission policy is likely to affect the composition of students enrolled in universities.

The application of a PD policy by a selective 1 university may in some cases result in an expansion of the overall number of students admitted, so that additional applicants from under-represented ethnic groups (UREGs) can be admitted without reducing correspondingly the number of non-UREG students enrolled. Most often, however, it results in an increase in the number of UREG applicants admitted to the university, and a similar decrease in the number of non-UREG applicants admitted, as compared with what would have happened in the absence of positive discrimination. Thus, one can speak of the admission of "retrospectively rejected" students (those who would have been rejected in the absence of PD) and the rejection of "retrospectively admitted" students (those who would have been admitted in the absence of PD). 2

These effects of a PD policy practiced by one selective university on the size and composition of its student body should be distinguished from the effects of the widespread application of PD policies across the higher educational system

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