Priority admission to “minority students”

August 3, 2017

The Justice Department has just announced that it plans to start suing universities who give any sort of priority admission to “minority students” (  One concern that came up for the First Generation College Student Success project I have been running was that many first-generation students feel like imposters— as if they do not really belong in college because they are not as qualified as their peers.

The narrative that suggests that there are well-qualified white applicants being held back from admission to colleges because minority students are being admitted in their stead only helps to fuel this “imposter syndrome” anxiety.  In fact, universities give priority admission to working-class, first-generation students of all backgrounds, as these students are minorities on many campuses.  Universities view this as a public service as it allows for significant social advancement of working-class families.  Not only will the student who is admitted gain social advancement, but his or her siblings and children are also much more likely to attend college.  

When my alma mater, the University of Michigan, was sued a few years back by a white female who felt she had not been admitted because a less qualified minority applicant had been, the University of Michigan published their admissions formula. As it turns out, working-class white folks (like me) got the same 10 extra points that black/Latino applicants got– AND that “legacy applicants” get. Legacy applicants are those whose parents or grandparents attended the university.

As it happens, legacy admissions are actually the most common “affirmative action,” though this is rarely ever noted.  Universities reserve many spots for the children and grandchildren of their alumni.  If universities cannot be allowed to give first-generation applicants those extra 10 points towards their applications, it will only mean that fewer working-class kids will be admitted to universities.  What might that mean for the American social order?

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