White People Flip-Flop on Affirmative Action When They Learn Asians Score Better Than Whites

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Aug. 13 2013 10:04 AM

White People Think College Admissions Should Be Based on Test Scores, Except When They Learn Asians Score Better Than Whites

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Students at UCLA, which has a large Asian-American population

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Should college admissions be based on simple quantitative metrics of academic skill such as standardized test scores and grade point averages? According to new research from Frank Samson, a sociologist at the University of Miami, white people sure think this is how admissions should work. That's what they think, that is, unless they're informed that such a system actually advantages Asian-American applicants rather than white ones:

The white adults in the survey were also divided into two groups. Half were simply asked to assign the importance they thought various criteria should have in the admissions system of the University of California. The other half received a different prompt, one that noted that Asian Americans make up more than twice as many undergraduates proportionally in the UC system as they do in the population of the state.
When informed of that fact, the white adults favor a reduced role for grade and test scores in admissions—apparently based on high achievement levels by Asian-American applicants.
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As I said last week, the entire debate over affirmative action misses what's really unfair in college admissions and this is further evidence that there's no stable underlying concept of "meritocracy" undergirding the system. But rather than dedicating the most resources to the "best" students and then fighting over who's the best, we should be allocating resources to the people who are mostly likely to benefit from additional instructional resources.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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