Leaving aside the comparison of a rejection letter with lynching, Kimbrough is correct that U-M’s black population (just under 5%) does not match the state’s 14% black population. However, the state of Michigan is also 79% white, while U-M is only 57% white. No one, including Kimbrough, is asserting that the university is discriminating against whites or that U-M’s white population should represent the population of the state.
In reality, getting into top schools like U-M is getting tougher for everyone, regardless of skin color. Stanford University’s acceptance rate for the class of 2018 was just 5.7%, a new low. As David Leonhardt reported recently in the New York Times, increasing competition from the best and brightest international students is making it tougher for even the top American students to gain admittance to elite universities. No mediocre student, even one who works very hard and has overcome obstacles like Kimbrough, should expect to be handed a ticket to a top tier school.
The purpose of college admissions policies should be to determine whether or not a student can be successful at the institution. As I have written in past, many students admitted to elite schools under lower academic standards end up dropping out, transferring or ranking toward the bottom of their class. Admissions policies which enroll students only to watch them fail out of school, struggle academically or switch to less rigorous majors (with poorer job prospects) do them no favors.
Ironically, while many believe race-based admissions policies hurt whites (thus the term “reverse discrimination”), there is far greater evidence that such policies hurt Asians. In their 2009 book, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford demonstrate that Asians must score an average of 140 points higher than whites on the SAT to be admitted to competitive universities. This is not a new problem; between the 1920’s and 1950’s, many elite colleges, including Harvard, adjusted admissions policies to restrict the number of Jewish students.
The good news is you do not have to attend an elite university to find success in life. As Leonhardt explained, “There is still scant evidence that the selectivity of the college one attends matters much. Students with similar SAT scores who attended colleges of different selectivity — say, Penn and Penn State — had statistically identical incomes in later years, according to research the economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger.”
Jennifer Gratz is successful, despite her rejection from U-M, and I expect Brooke Kimbrough will be also. Gratz graduated from University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Kimbrough has been accepted to Michigan State, Howard, Iowa and Western Michigan. While life may never be “fair” in the way either of these women envision it, we can work to make sure that more young people are able to enter adulthood with a backup plan of attending a good college instead of a great one.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.