Actions speak louder than words, except in a country like America where success is measured in dollars, titles and initials. Our elitist culture contributes to heightened egos for those with prestige and wealth. However, those without such pleasures are encouraged to drown themselves with personal guilt for their apparent failures.

Jasmine Clair

This is what makes meritocracy great. We’re all competing against one another in a race toward a finish line where wealth and prestige awaits us. But in America, the winners don’t have to be the most hardworking, talented or ethical. Especially when making a set of rules eliminating other competitors yields the same outcome.

These rules would obviously be unfair and discriminatory. But that would be cheating. However, by labeling these rules “democracy,” the cheaters go unnoticed for a while. And when the other groups finally do notice, they’re so far behind that they can’t catch up at a reasonable pace. But “democracy” makes this acceptable.

The University participates in such acts today. Activism and diversity are two very important issues on campus, which explains why the University has adamantly fought to protect its affirmative action polices. Such practices repair and attempt to reverse the disparities caused from the members-only democracy (that still exists, though to a lesser extent than before).

Affirmative action also brings diversity, which is important because it allows for the exchange of ideas. Not to mention that it adds color to the room, a sight that many experience for the first time here on campus.

So every year the University works to recruit as many qualified students of color and from low-income areas (including whites) as possible, especially from areas with notoriously high poverty rates and low-quality public schools. However, this presents problems. Even the highest achievers attending an underfunded urban public school will lack the same level of preparedness as someone from a wealthy suburban public school. But more importantly, how can a student from a poor family afford to attend one of the most expensive public universities in the nation?

Considering this, the University devised a seemingly great solution. But I refer to it as the bait-and-switch approach.

In realizing the difficulty in convincing someone to spend nearly half of his annual household income on college tuition — call them selfish, but sometimes food, clothing and shelter take priority — the University simply baits students with incredible financial aid packages for their first year.

Filled with scholarships, grants and work study, a prospective student’s financial worries seem to disappear. Combine this with a summer enrichment program designed to make up 12 years of low-quality education in an eight-week program, and we’ve got a future Wolverine in the making.

This brings many bright and ambitious young students to campus to finally experience what our parents were denied for so long. However, for many, the college experience serves as a rude awakening explaining why minority retention rates are so low.

First, it’s just ridiculous to think that a summer program will make up for years worth of untaught information. Yet, such enrichment efforts seem to disappear after freshman year. While many students persevere, many do not. But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t smart enough or didn’t deserve to be here. It simply means that the University cut off the academic support at a time when students needed it the most.

However the financial situation is worse. College costs frequently extend beyond what’s written on paper, especially when the average meal plan only covers 13 meals a week, forcing students to either upgrade their plans or pay for the rest of the meals out of pocket. Either way means more money spent.

But this is trivial when compared to what happens during sophomore year. That beautiful financial aid package becomes a thing of the past because debt will undoubtedly be the future. The loans that were missing from the baiting aid package appear with full force, displayed right below the total aid amount, which is interestingly a couple thousand less than the last year.

Needless to say, a lot of us don’t come back for the third and fourth years. But those that do will carry the added stress of having debt, making them much poorer than they were upon entering here.

These all factor into the low retention rates among minority students and those from less than privileged backgrounds. Such obstacles are quite similar to those from my race analogy. Yet affirmative action opponents ignore this in their discussions. But even worse, the University apparently does too.

Affirmative action is needed and benefits the entire campus community. However, present policies only give ammunition to its critics. The current bait-and-switch policies must end now. Financial aid and academic programs must be tailored to fit the needs of students beyond their first year. If the University is truly concerned with fighting inequality and discrimination, it will give the retention rates of such students the attention they deserve.

 

Clair can be reached at jclair@umich.edu.

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