Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Costs, Benefits, and Implementation

By Berry, RaJade M. | Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Costs, Benefits, and Implementation


Berry, RaJade M., Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management


ABSTRACT. This article discusses the costs and benefits of implementing affirmative action programs in higher education. Based on a national survey of institutions of higher education, the author addresses the following questions: What factors impede the ability of the affirmative action officer to achieve program results? What is the effect of staff size, budget, and race on perceived implementation barriers? This study finds that increased impediments to affirmative action program efficacy are greatly affected by program resources and race.

INTRODUCTION

For more than four decades, social equity policies in America have continued to face legal, administrative, and political challenges. Responding to concerns for social equity and calls for action from the government, many laws and initiatives were specifically designed to provide equal opportunity and mobility for traditionally disadvantaged groups (i.e., minorities, women, and the disabled). Equal employment opportunity initiatives consist of statements that prohibit discrimination and support programs that investigate individual discrimination complaints. Political power and legal protection for these "protected groups" have evolved as a result of a three -tier process: equal employment laws, affirmative action laws and programs, and diversification programs (Klingner & Nalbandian, 1998). While these laws and initiatives may be similar in nature, each serves a purpose in diversifying American's workforce and educational institutions. Equal employment laws protect "protected groups" from discriminatory treatment regarding hiring, promoting, and working conditions. Because individual victims of employer discrimination found it difficult to file complaints, the utility of the equal employment policy was limited to organizational pronouncements prohibiting discrimination and complaint processing (Kellough, 1998). Affirmative action programs expand educational and employment opportunities for "protected groups" by actively recruiting them into the organization. Organizations are then able to develop workforce diversification programs to focus on several areas (i.e., recruitment and retention, job design, education and training, benefits and rewards, and performance measurement and improvement) and encourage organizational change in its mission, culture, policies, practices and productivity - all of which are vital to long -term organizational survival and effectiveness (Klingner & Nalbandian, 1998).

While in theory, this three -tier system promotes social equity and eliminates discriminatory barriers to achieving a representative balance in education, employment, and contracting, some aspects of this system raises problems in society because these social values may conflict with the principle of equal treatment for all American citizens (Birch, 1993). Klingner and Nalbandian (1998) point out that the public personnel management system in the United States is one that reflects competition among traditional values such as political responsiveness, organizational efficiency, individual rights and social equity, and emergent anti government values (i.e., individual accountability, limited and decentralized government, and community responsibility for social services). When jobs are scarce, competing values become evident because some policies are viewed as favorable based on their contribution to social equity or unfavorable based on their denial of individual rights for non-minorities, in particular.

This article discusses the societal costs and benefits of implementing affirmative action in higher education and questions whether the outcome of affirmation action can be determined given the significant implementation challenges that currently exist in higher education. Also, this research considers how program resources and race might influence factors that impede the role of the affirmative action officer.

THE CHALLENGES OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Affirmative action refers to a set of public policies and specific initiatives designed to eradicate institutional racism and discrimination. …

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