For those of you with time horizons shorter than the leisurely weeks and months that we lofty Internet intellectuals think in terms of, in this post from last week Ampersand attempts to discredit the ratchet effect, a hypothesis about racially preferred students’ placement and performance in higher education. He is, of course, wrong and bad, although a decent enough fellow. I continue to believe that the ratchet effect is a valid interpretation of the data we have, and something which supports the idea of ending purely racial preferences in college admissions.
Because Amp has written a novel, and because I have no wish to reciprocate, I will basically ignore all of the opinions that Amp states and respond strictly to the facts.
Empirical evidence shows that the mismatch hypothosis is fiction. The truth is, minority students in colleges that practice AA are more likely to graduate than minority students with identical academic “qualifications” (i.e., SAT scores, class rank, etc.) who attend less-highly-ranked colleges.
How can this be?…[long list of possible explanatory factors for the good performance of racially preferred students at elite institutions snipped, because agreed with]
There is no doubt whatsoever that going to a good school means going to a good school, Amp – which of course means higher performing people and higher performances turned in. That’s what elite means.
But most folks at college aren’t at Yale. They don’t have lavish endowment grants and peer groups made up of high-social capital individuals and the most brilliant TAs in the world. It would be nice if they did, but they don’t. The majority of the people who are affected by the ratchet effect – the VAST majority – attend community colleges and state schools, not the Ivy League.
I need you to clarify one point. The citations you have provided support the idea that at the high end of the spectrum, racially preferred students’ collective performance is higher than at lower levels, and I concede that point above. You have rhetorically, however, generalized this into a sentiment that a higher level automatically means a higher performance, across the entire curve. That does not appear supported in what you have presented, and so I ask you to clarify the strength of your claim, and to provide appropriate citations if it is in fact stronger than what I have yielded.
The quibbles about study design and methodology I lack competence to address, so I won’t. I will note, however, that the “zinger” paragraph you pulled from Light and Strayer doesn’t, in fact, support you in the argument we’re having. You write:
Light and Strayer conclude that the data is “consistent with the notion that racial preferences in college admissions boost minorities’ chances of attending college and that retention programs directed at minority students subsequently enhance their chances of earning a degree.”
I wouldn’t disagree with either of those points. I’m not a scholar of minority college attendance per se, but it would seem logical to assume that preferences would boost that statistic. And of course, retention programs directed at anyone, if competently run, will boost that group’s numbers – and good on ’em. What do either of these propositions have to do with the ratchet effect? (Particularly the ex-post-facto retention effort point – do you believe that if I open an umbrella, that means the rain isn’t falling?)
The Alon/Tienda results you quote simply provide more evidence that higher-quality schools are better than lower-quality schools. Of course performance is better the higher you go up the ladder. The question isn’t “will Yale help Frank graduate” – of course it will. The question is whether Frank will do better if he goes to Yale, or if he goes to Cornell, and whether the currently existing Franks are making decisions that are suboptimal for their life outcomes.
The evidence is clear:There is no “mismatch” problem with affirmative action. Being able to attend better universities increases the odds that black and hispanic students will graduate. Right-wing proposals to eliminate affirmative action, far from helping hispanic and black students, would deprive some minority students of access to the best colleges while lowering their odds of graduating.
Well, the evidence may be clear somewhere, but that isn’t here. You’ve produced evidence that better schools are better places to go to school. This wasn’t a controversial point, and it doesn’t have any bearing on whether there is a mismatch between students and institutions.
I believe that your basic error here is conceptual, not philosophical. You see a result that says “the grazing is better on field A than on field B”. You see a report that says “the cows on field B are not as fat as the cows on field A”. And you reach the conclusion that “the more cows that graze on field A, the better off all cows will be!” Which will be true – for the first few cows to switch pasture. (What you ought to be asking is “how do we make field B more like field A”.)
Higher education isn’t a cow pasture. (Although the end product often bears a certain resemblance.) But you are thinking about it statistically, instead of individually – and it all happens individually. The statistics are just the mirror, they aren’t the view – and if you go by the mirror, you’ll get everything backwards.