Culture

Duke University Study Slams Affirmative Action, Says Blacks Not Prepared for College

Wed., Jan. 18, 2012 1:05 PM EST
by Terry Shropshire

Duke University’s economics department concluded a study which states that low-performing black students are unprepared for college entry and only close the GPA gap with their white counterparts by switching their majors to ‘easier’ disciplines.

The study downplayed the number of whites who also changed their majors to non-math and non-science majors and – more importantly — it did not provide solutions to the problem it outlined.

According to economics professor Peter Arcidiacono’s study, “What Happens After Enrollment? An Analysis of the Time Path of Racial Differences in GPA and Major Choice,” more than half of black students who originally began with math and science majors — such as economics, engineering and natural sciences — changed their majors to less stringent disciplines such as the humanities and social sciences.

The timing and motivation behind such a study was called into question by its vociferous critics.

“The study opens with a bold statement that affirmative action admissions in higher education allow for the college admission of minority students who have ‘weak’ preparation for college-level work,” a group of black Duke alumni wrote in the Durham Herald Sun on Monday. “This implies that students of color are not as intelligent or prepared as their white counterparts.”

The study, which was co-authored by graduate student Esteban M. Aucejo, also stated that among students who initially majored in economics, engineering, and the natural sciences, 54 percent of black men and 51 percent of black women ended up switching to the humanities or another social science.

Bianca Williams, who obtained her bachelor’s and doctorate at Duke, spoke for a portion of the black alumni when she tore into the study’s insinuation.

“We are greatly alarmed that members of the academy would publicly belittle the utility and value of the humanities and social sciences,” Williams. “There is a great danger in qualifying some disciplines as being more difficult than others because it creates a hierarchy of scholarship. Are we to believe that an ‘A’ in an economics class supplants the hard work and rigor necessary for an ‘A’ in history?”

What’s interesting is that the study, which was included in a brief sent to the U.S. Supreme Court by affirmative action opponents, says 33 percent of white women and 8 percent of white men switched to majors that supposedly require less brain power and lower criteria for obtaining good grades.

Contrast the Duke study with the 2011 study conducted by the University of Michigan that stated that, in more than half of the state’s high schools, less than 10 percent of students were prepared for college after high school graduation. Overall, only 19 percent of graduating seniors statewide were ready for college — regardless of whether they attended schools in the city, suburbs or rural areas of the state.

Even if you removed African Americans and Hispanics out of the University of Michigan study, the rate of students who are ready for the next level of education is embarrassingly low.

Translation: the UM study suggests strongly that the American educational system, in it’s present condition, is woefully inadequate to prepare its students of all ethnicities and economic strata for college. That means there is evidence of rotting at the core of the system and not so much a particular demographic. –terry shropshire

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