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Examining Class-Based Affirmative Action

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Examining Class-Based Affirmative Action

Examining Class-Based Affirmative Action

Every year, high school seniors are faced with the over-whelming decision of choosing which college to attend. For many, it is a question of finances, location, and true potential of being accepted. For others, it is simply a question of whether or not their prospective school is admitting applicants from lower economic classes. Either way, for many students, deciding which college to attend can be a daunting thing.

To help ease this fear, Amy Ziebarth (2005), author of “Solving the Diversity Dilemma,” proposes a new method to promote diversity, one that focuses on class rather than race” (Ziebarth, 2005, p. 129). Richard Kahlenberg (2000), author of “Class-based Affirmative Action in College Admissions,” proposes “affirmative action programs should be “mended” rather than “ended” so that preferences are provided on the basis of economic disadvantage rather than race or gender” (Kahlenberg, 2000m, p.1).

After reading both articles I found myself questioning whether implementing such plans would truly be effective. If a class-based system is to be implemented successfully, it is crucial to thoroughly examine, the benefits as well as the potential downfalls of such a system.

In her essay, Ziebarth (2005) proposes a shift from focusing on race to focusing on class in an effort to promote diversity. The problem with this proposal is that class and race in America seem to be almost parallel. Ziebarth (2005) seems to offer a solution to the problem of outwardly promoting racial diversity by suggesting a method only slightly more implicit. A change of wording is a far cry from actually implementing a program that will aid those who constantly find themselves the victims of racial discrimination.

Kahlenberg (2000) presents a much more developed proposal. He carefully examines the potential drawbacks as well as the numerous benefits. By presenting both opposing and supporting viewpoints of class-based affirmative action, he was able to develop a much sounder proposal. He offers reading suggesting how the plan would work and even evidence that the plan would work.

I would first like to consider the potential benefits of implementing class-based affirmative action. As a minority student, I feel that such a system would be beneficial to help promote higher-education success, particularly among other minorities. If a student feels that they are capable enough to be selected to attend a post-secondary institution, in spite of the many hardships that they may have faced, it will give them more of an incentive to excel in such institutions. As noted by Kahlenberg (2000), “studies show that the student who has done well despite having to overcome serious obstacles is likely to have greater long-run potential” (Kahlenberg, 2000, p. 2). These sentiments resonate throughout college campuses as more and more minority students are graduating and going on to lucrative careers.

Another potential benefit of promoting class-based affirmative action is the idea of increased racial diversity in college admissions. According to Ziebarth (2005), “class-based diversity programs will inevitably promote racial diversity in admissions even if they are not explicitly intended to do so” (Ziebarth, 2005, p. 130). By using class to promote diversity, institutions will in unavoidably increase racial diversity. Since class-based programs seek to implement ways to increase racial and social diversity, it will in turn have a similar effect on promoting diversity. “Class-based affirmative action should yield a lot more racial diversity than simply relying on grades and test scores,” notes Kahlenberg (Kahlenberg, 2000, p. 5).

There are several noteworthy flaws in thinking when examining the theoretical benefits of implementing class-based affirmative action. Many universities have several criteria that they consider in their admissions processes. Some of this criterion does not lend itself to class-based merit. For example, many schools will look at a student’s grade point average, test scores, extra-curricular involvement, and class-rank among other things. None of these has a particular bearing on social class. Many schools have required students to submit personal essays, which allow students a chance to give schools a better glimpse of obstacles they may have had to overcome. Proponents of class-based affirmative action should establish additional ways of fairly measuring all aspects of a prospective student’s potential.

Proponents seeking to phase out a race-based system in exchange for a class-based one also fail to examine the underlying message they are sending students when promoting class-based affirmative action. While it is true that students who come from poverty-stricken environments can succeed in college, it is unfair to grant these

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