The University, which garnered wide national attention for its defense of affirmative action in the application process not much more than a year ago, prides itself on its diversity. Sadly, statistics concerning minority graduation rates show that a simple commitment to admitting a diverse freshman class is not enough to help underrepresented minorities receive a college education. Graduation rates for underrepresented minorities, while above the national average, continue to lag behind rates for whites and Asians. Affirmative action for the purpose of creating a diverse incoming class is insufficient. It is not enough for the University to merely accept underrepresented minorities; the University must also see them graduate.
Though the University has a higher rate of minority graduation than other universities, underrepresented minorities continue to drop out more frequently than other students. Over the last few years, this phenomenon has been used to attack affirmative action. Opponents claim the statistics show underrepresented minorities admitted under affirmative action are academically unqualified, and thus pressured into quitting school. While it is dubious to present this as evidence that affirmative action is flawed, the argument that underrepresented minorities are academically less prepared than their peers is worth examining.
The discrepancy in resources and educational opportunity between high schools contributes to a wide range of preparedness. Students coming from rich, suburban high schools and private prep academies are far better primed for the rigors of collegiate academics than students coming from inner-city public schools. Indeed, it is this inequity that affirmative action attempts to redress. Statistically speaking, underrepresented minorities tend to come from schools with fewer resources than white and Asian students.
The problems that necessitate affirmative action do not disappear upon admission to the University. The inequalities that would make admission to the University almost impossible in the absence of affirmative action also make it difficult for students to excel academically in the absence of a support system. Affirmative action helps students who did not receive the benefits of rigorous college-preparatory classes get into the University, but it does not bestow upon them the educational benefits of such a curriculum.
If the University wants to ensure a diverse graduating class — a goal arguably as important as ensuring a diverse incoming class — it must take steps to help underrepresented minorities. Current “Bridge” programs that are available for certain students during the summer before their first year should be expanded. These programs, which offer review classes to students who feel they are academically unprepared to attend the University, can help address the educational inequality between high schools. Furthermore, the University needs to provide academic counseling services tailored to students who have trouble adjusting to the University’s competitive atmosphere. The rising cost of tuition, housing and books puts pressure on all students, especially those who have limited financial resources. An attempt to curb the costs of education or to provide more scholarship and grant money to lower-income students could help make a University education more accessible, not merely for underrepresented minorities (who are more likely to come from low-income families), but rather for all students of modest financial means.
If the University is sincere in its commitment to diversity, it must look beyond the realm of admissions. The fight for affirmative action preserved a valuable tool in the quest for racial equality and social justice. It is, however, not enough. The larger task — helping minorities succeed at the University — remains incomplete.