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Monday, August 27, 2012
The Real Effects of Diversity
How do we measure the benefits of diversity in the classroom? Affirmative action in higher education is a hot-button political topic. From a philosophical standpoint, each side has valid arguments. But what about the real effects of affirmative action policies? How do we evaluate them?
Generally, the abolition of affirmative action policies at the university level is followed by a quantifiable drop in student admission among certain racial groups, most notably African-American and Latino students. The reasons behind the declining numbers are always up for divisive political discussion, but the statistics themselves are clear.
For proponents of affirmative action, trends such as these are cause for concern. What are the unintended downsides to a lack of racial diversity in the educational environment? Do all non-white students need to be evaluated according to their race, as well as their scholastic aptitude? Why are students of color disproportionately affected by the absence of affirmative action policies?
If these statistics are food for thought, they certainly only paint half the picture. Sure, affirmative action appears to give a leg up to many non-white students. But how does the prohibition of affirmative negatively impact all students. A recent study may shed some light.
Over the past decade, several university professors have been collecting empirical data from over 6,500 students at 50 different law schools. The survey attacks two primary questions: 1) do students differ by race upon entering law school and 2) do any differences "contribute educational benefits to students, institutions, or society?" The answer, according to this study, is a resounding "yes".
The surveyed students reported that diversity in the classroom contributed to an overall broader world-view. The presence of students from a wide spectrum of social and cultural experiences forced all students to better evaluate people, situations and problems from different perspectives.
Even empirical studies are subject to criticism, but evaluations such as these may prove critical in enhancing a very divisive discussion on race and higher education. For an abbreviated article in the National Law Journal and link to the original study, click here: The National Law Journal .
Labels: The Real Effects of Diversity
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Obama Administration Shows Support for Affirmative Action
As I've written many times before, few topics are more controversial than affirmative action in college admissions. Political middle ground on this issue is almost impossible to find. And while the consideration of race in college admissions is still prohibited in many states, the issue continues to simmer.
This autumn, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case filed in 2008 by a white student who was denied admission. Abigail Fisher claims that the university's failure to offer her a spot at the university was a result of discrimination. The University of Texas does consider race as one component in the overall evaluation of student applications.
This week, the Obama Administration weighed in, making perhaps its opinion on affirmative action fairly clear. Historically, the president has suggested that any preferential treatment in college admissions should be skewed along socioeconomic-not racial lines. In a friends of court brief, several departments within the administration stated that racial preference in college admissions is something colleges should consider in an effort to create opportunity for students of color, and diversity to the student body.
Texas is unique in some respects. Its universities automatically offer college admission to the top 10% of high school students statewide. This policy has had the net effect of increasing enrollment for non-white students. Still, Texas universities do consider race in a nod to the value of diversity in the educational environment.
With the presidential election less than 90 days away, this symbolic statement could stir political tensions. However, the Supreme Court's ruling is unlikely to have much effect upon many of the country's largest states. California-which has its own laws on the books preventing consideration of race in college admissions, would be unaffected by the decision.
However, if the US Supreme Court made a grand statement in simply agreeing to hear the case, the Obama Administration followed suit by publicly taking a side. Oral arguments begin in October.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Art of Writing the Admission Essay
Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn't.
So says Colson Whitehead in his recent engaging treaty "How to Write" NY Times . While Whitehead's article is addressed to aspiring writers, and not just desperate college hopefuls, his tips are relevant and easy to digest.
Proofreading is just one of his eleven bullet points. He also tells us that writer's block can be a tool and-one of my regular personal favorites "never use three words when one will do". Still, he delivers his counsel with bite. Admission essay how-to guides tend to be scrubbed clean of charisma. There is certainly a formula for a solid admission essay. But for students searching for a bit more inspiration probably need more than ordinary bullet points.
Whitehead advises would-be scribes to get out and live life. After all, the best writing is the fruit of rich life experience. Young students with limited life adventures may have to rely instead on fertile imaginations. I'm not suggesting that students fabricate experiences in their admissions essays. I am suggesting that students exploit their creative sides in order to harvest interesting sprigs of ordinary life.
After all, admissions officers are simply looking for something that humanizes an applicant. They do not need extraordinary. Whitehead doesn't say it in so many words, but revision isn't simply about correcting mistakes. It is about uncovering weaknesses that weren't even visible during the first, second, or fifteenth read. You'd be surprised at what you might find buried within your own words.
And if this is all just literary for you, well-maybe you should sit down and try reading it again.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
No Downside in Starting Admissions Essays Early
Just because something is good for us, doesn't mean we are inclined to do it. Going for a run. Putting down that cupcake. Starting to put money in a retirement account. All good ideas. In theory.
Which makes it difficult for me to suggest-again-that students begin to think of starting their college admissions essays now. During the late, hot summer. There is simply no downside to starting early. For most students, admissions deadlines are somewhere between November and January. Starting work in August means students can bank several months of time during which they can revise, proofread, and reconsider what they have written.
Starting early helps to take the pressure off. Students can easily become suffocated by time constraints come autumn. Suddenly they are juggling senior year activities with the pressure of applications, essays, letters of recommendation, and more.
If you are looking for essay feedback, it makes sense to give your editor plenty of time. Cramming it in their in-box a day before it is due does no one any good. Starting earlier means that you have more time to put your admission essay in front of many eyes. Teachers, parents, guidance counselors, or college coaches.
Finally, for students considering applying Early Action or Early Decision, starting the admission essay may be essential. The upside of early entry programs is the increased odds of admissions. One downside is that some essays are due around the start of November.
This isn't the first time I've suggested making good use of summer and starting those admissions essays. With several weeks left, it may not be the last.
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