Quora Question: Do Minorities Have an Advantage in School Admissions?

Students graduating from the School of Law cheer as they receive their degrees during the 364th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 28. Brian Snyder/Reuters

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Answer from Vielka Hoy, founder and director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, on Quora:

I'll answer this how I answer it in real life (and I get this question a lot): anecdotally, quantitatively and personally.

In all my years in college access, I have not worked with any white males with means, until this year. He was admitted to more universities than any of my other clients, ever. This year I even had a National Merit Scholar who had more AP classes and a higher SAT score than him (she is an immigrant female, by the way). He worked tremendously hard, as do all of my clients, so I don't believe the comparison should be made. And that is the point, but I'll get to that later.

When you look at data, you have to understand the difference between percentages and numbers. Many college access sites provide odds of being admitted to a university based on gender and race, but they don't account for the number of those types of students who actually apply. I thought about that difference quite a bit as a researcher for the College Access Project for African Americans at UCLA. In that year, UCLA enrolled six African American non-athlete males. Six. They probably received twice that number in viable applications so the odds of those students getting in is high. I also say viable since the overwhelming majority of students in California (more than 60 percent) are not eligible to even apply to the public universities in the state. In some cases, that percentage has reached nearly 90 percent in some school districts, and those districts are mostly districts with high populations of students of color. Governor Jerry Brown has even said that Berkeley is not attainable for the average California student.

When I taught in Los Angeles, I worked in a school that did not have any working computers except for in the college center. Most of the students did not have working computers at home either. This meant that when college applications were due, the students were lined up around the building for days, waiting to use the one working computer they all had access to. The valedictorian graduated with a 3.2 GPA because the school did not have any honors or AP classes. I believe she eventually went to a community college.

These situations prompted a lawsuit in California. Keep in mind that the Williams' case was essentially asking for textbooks and teachers with credentials.

I say all of that because while affirmative action does not exist anymore (despite what people would like others to believe especially those arguing for the recent Fisher case), JFK's intention when he created it was to provide an additional push for communities who have been subjugated, in some cases, for centuries. And even non-quota race-conscious admissions is not helpful; as in the Fisher case, there were a total of five African American and Latino students admitted using their race-conscious system. Five.

Finally, take a look at the percentages of African American and Latino students at these universities; again, the percentages are low, and so are the numbers.

In short, if we use California as an example, when you have qualified African American and Latino students, they are in low numbers, are highly qualified, and had to overcome quite a bit in order to be that qualified. And since California ended affirmative action in any form in 1997, they are getting into schools without the preferences of affirmative action.

I recognize that people understand what they would like to, regardless of the data presented to them. So instead of presenting more data, I urge you to consider the paradigm that the argument around affirmative action presents. Admissions is a competition. But it doesn't have to be. Theoretically schools could admit as many students as they want; they could even do away with an admissions process altogether. They could enroll students and hire more professors. That would actually be a pretty cool thing because it would mean more people earn advanced degrees. But they don't just open their doors. Competition creates exclusivity and exclusivity creates demand. That demand means you will pay top dollar for whatever you are getting. One of the data points for ranking schools is how selective they are. Again, they are creating demand. So instead of asking "Why would a school reject over 95 percent of its applicants when that could mean additional tuition dollars or innovative and creative research just walking out its doors?," we go to "If I'm not part of 5 percent, it must be because of a shortcoming on the part of the students who did get in." I say consider European nations with free college. I'll also say to consider the larger affirmative action that still exists— legacies—and the large amount of seats that go to white legacy students each year. Yet we never question that one.

Finally, I'll say that I am an Afro-Latina with immigrant parents. I grew up in the suburbs, and we didn't have a ton of money. I studied extremely hard in school because I never wanted to be in a situation where I would have to ask a question that confirmed that I didn't deserve to be in the many AP classes that I took. I even skipped lunch during my senior year so that I could hear the AP Calculus lesson twice each day. In undergrad, I was known to be surrounded by open books and notes on the couches in the gym before practice, in the study rooms in the dorms, and in the stacks in the library. I earned an MA and began a doctoral program at the top university in this country with a fellowship that is only given to two students on that campus each year. Naturally there is part of me that resents this question as there is an assumption that something was not earned and that there is not a benefit to having diverse voices on a college campus. I urge you, and others with a similar perspective, to rethink the data and the paradigm.

As usual, I did write more about this.

And I hope this helps.

Is it still possible to get into a good college being a white male in a time where women and minorities are so highly preferred? originally appeared on Quora—the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

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