As a policy that seeks to correct for past wrongs by doing something in the present, affirmative action has been controversial since its inception 25 years ago.
That controversy continues today as it comes once again under judicial review and under the scrutiny of general public. Some argue that though the pursuit of racial justice in higher education is a noble idea to help people of color, people of other races should not have to “pay” for the wrongdoings of their ancestors.
The pursuit of racial justice in higher education has led to some benefits such as more diversity on campuses. However, affirmative action can do more harm than good, causing unintended consequences, such as academic mismatch, that can become obstacles, which may have long-term bad effects on society.
Although affirmative action intends to help disadvantaged students, it has created a problem of mismatch between ability and school, proven to lead to lower grades and higher failure rates. Affirmative action-induced low grades are a serious problem, as demonstrated by research over the course of the last decade.
According to the Daily Signal, more than 50 percent of African-American law students, many of whom had been admitted pursuant to affirmative action policies, were in the bottom 10 percent of their class. Furthermore, the dropout rate among African-American students was more than twice that of their white peers (19.3 percent vs. 8.2 percent).
This problem of academic “mismatch” stimulates low grades and high dropout rates for minority students who have assisted admittance due to affirmative action. It is potentially a serious hindrance to minority students in the long run by putting them in a position in which their capabilities are not matched with academic expectations.
Some may argue these results are due to laziness and a lack of talented students. However, race-blind admissions that actually went into effect in California demonstrates the problem of mismatch. Before those came into being, California struggled with affirmative action-induced high failure rates and low grades.
UC San Diego, a selective institution topped only by flagship institutions like UC Berkeley, had only one African-American student with a 3.5 GPA or higher after freshman year in 1997. Yet, after race-blind admissions were carried out, minority students went to institutions like UC San Diego, UC Riverside, and UC Santa Cruz, all part of the prestigious University of California System. The result was impressive because African-American and Hispanic student admissions skyrocketed by 42 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Moreover, failure rates disappeared and grades improved. This confirms that poor scores have nothing to do with abilities and laziness, but instead, mismatch.
Although affirmative action has successfully extended equal opportunities to minorities for over 25 years, the policy has actually caused a good deal of harm and should be further re-evaluated.