Interesting. About a week ago, when the University of California-Berkeley College Republicans hosted a bake sale with a pricing structure based on common college admissions practices, opponents of the sale cried “racism.” That’s because the pricing structure dramatically revealed that some minority students have an easier time obtaining admission to universities, thanks to affirmative action — and critics of the bake sale didn’t like that the publicity stunt revealed that truth. Surprisingly, most of the backlash didn’t come from the white students who were charged $2 a cupcake as Asians were charged $1.50, Hispanics $1.00, blacks $0.75 and Native Americans $0.25.
Now, Fordham University students plan to host a bake sale in response to the Cal-Berkeley event. Dubbed “The REAL Affirmative Action Bake Sale,” the sale’s pricing structure will take all admissions factors — including family income, legacy status and athletic ability — into account. The results? Children of the very wealthy will have to pay just $0.25 for a cupcake and athletes will have to pay just $0.50. Legacies and under-represented minorities will pay $1.00 while general admission will be $1.30 for women and $1.25 for men.
Mark Naison, professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham, explains why this structure is actually more reflective of what drives the college admissions process:
According to James Shulman and William Bowen, in their book The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, recruited male athletes, in the 1999 cohort, received a 48 percent admissions advantage, as compared to 25 percent for legacies, and 18 percent for minorities (the comparable figures for women athletes were 54 percent, 24 percent, and 20 percent, respectively). Not only do athletes get a larger admissions advantage, Bowen and Shapiro report, they constitute a larger portion of the student population than under-represented minorities at the nation’s top colleges, averaging 20 percent at the Ivy League colleges and 40 percent at Williams. And the vast majority of the recrutited athletes at those colleges who get those admissions advantages are white, including participants in sports like men’s and women’s lacrosse, golf, tennis and sailing, which few minorities play in.
But it was not the material in The Game of Life which most outraged my students, it was the analysis offered in a book I used in my course for the first time, Peter Schmidt’s Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning The War Over College Affirmative Action. According to Schmidt, higher education has become a plutocracy, where “a rich child has about 25 times as much chances as a poor one of someday enrolling in a college rated as highly selective or better.” In the last twenty years, Schmidt claims, universities have quietly given significant admissions advantages to students whose parents can pay full tuition, make a donation to the school, or have ties to influential politicians. Schmidt’s statistics, showing 74 percent of students in the top two tiers of universities come from families making over $83,000, as compared to 3 percent come from families making under $27,000 a year, enraged my students.
Frankly, the Fordham Bake Sale sounds awesome. It reflects that underrepresented minorities receive advantages — but it also points out all the ways the college admissions process isn’t exactly an academics-based meritocratic one. Instead, it reflects all the ways college has become about so much more — and so much less — than education. Personally, as much as I love college sports and all the other traditional trappings of “the college experience” from rec centers to on-campus concerts, I wonder whether that might not be a shame. I’m inclined to agree with American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray, who writes that the elevation of the bachelor degree to an almost-entitlement for middle class kids does a disservice to individuals who might not be academically-minded but who offer other abilities to society. Instead of making those individuals feel like they have to go to college to have a job worth working, we ought to offer them opportunities to develop their non-academic abilities and provide them with ways to use those abilities to contribute to society. In effect, college sports do that for athletes who might not otherwise go to college (and, arguably, from an academic perspective, shouldn’t go to college) — but that they’re tied to educational institutions is misleading. Murray proposes to abolish the B.A. as a right-of-passage piece of paper and bring back true universities, centers to cultivate research and thought. That’s dramatic and controversial, but well worth considering. In the meantime, both the Berkeley and Fordham bake sales did what they were designed to do — spur discussion.