WASHINGTON – Colleges give black and Hispanic applicants an unfair edge in admissions over similarly qualified white students, according to a study of 47 schools released Thursday by the Center for Equal Opportunity.
The new study echoed findings of a September report by the center that focused specifically on public colleges in Maryland. That study found substantial differences in test scores for in-state black and white students. It also said differences between whites and Hispanics in Maryland were less pervasive but “greater and more common” than those between whites and Asians.
The reported racial preferences in admissions were attacked Thursday by center President Linda Chavez as a clear “violation of our civil rights.”
“We believe it is an immoral practice. . .to judge students on the basis of their skin color,” Chavez said.
State college officials said they do not judge students solely on the color of their skin — but some added that race is one in a complex series of factors that are considered for admission.
“One of the responsibilities of the institutions is to increase access to higher education for students from groups who have been historically underrepresented,” said Francis Canavan, associate vice chancellor for communications for the University System of Maryland.
“It’s a responsibility we take seriously and it’s a responsibility we’re proud of,” Canavan said.
Several state officials accused Chavez of taking a simplistic look at a complex situation.
Frostburg State University spokesman Ty DeMartino said his school does not consider race at all in admissions, but does weigh high school grade-point averages, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and other factors. Some students who have poor test scores, he noted, stand out in other areas and blossom when they get to the college.
“All we can talk about is the success of our alums and how many times we hear. . .`Thanks for taking a chance on me,'” DeMartino said.
At the University of Maryland, College Park, officials use 26 different factors when weighing undergraduate admission, including race, said James Christensen, interim director of undergraduate admissions.
“I don’t fear the debate” over admission standards, Christensen said. “I do fear that for that simplistic approach to what really happens in the admission practice, a socially damaging outcome could occur.”
But Chavez said the damage is being done to minority students who are not receiving adequate early education, but whose problems are being swept under the rug by preferential college admission practices.
“It is not sufficient simply to pretend the skills gap does not exist,” she said. “It’s too late when a child is 17 to make up for what they’ve missed.”
The latest report, “Pervasive Preferences,” examined test scores, high school grade-point averages and race of students or applicants to 47 schools, including the University of Virginia and the U.S. Naval Academy.
It concluded that at least three out of four of those schools conferred “a substantial degree of preference” for blacks over whites, which it defined as a difference of at least 30 points in verbal and math SAT scores and at least 0.1 in high school GPA between groups.
The report said that about two out of five schools preferred Hispanics over whites. Few schools exhibited preferences for Asians over whites, the authors wrote.
The researchers said the new report was more thorough than the September report on Maryland schools, which did not include high school grades, among other data. The Maryland study also examined only enrolled students, not applicants.
While they conceded that “the data is not as good” for Maryland as for the 47 schools in Thursday’s report, the authors said there is no denying the fact that black and Hispanic students here have lower test scores on average, and that black students are more likely to take remedial classes.
Administrators seized on the admitted shortcomings in the Maryland report as proof that it gives an unbalanced picture of the admissions process.
“It makes me very angry,” said Christensen. “We are educating people who deserve it, who have earned it and I believe that absolutely.”