secrets of the sat
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race sensitive policies in admission: a thirty-year study
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Arguments over the import of race sensitive polices in college admissions have long been based on anecdotal accounts, specifically because little statistical evidence on the effects of race sensitive policies existed. The Shape of the River by William G. Bowen and Derek Bok details the first attempt to objectively assess the consequences of race sensitive policies using statistical evidence. In the book, William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University, and Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, examine the College and Beyond database, a catalog of information on more than 80,000 undergraduates who enrolled at 28 selective colleges and universities in 1951, 1976 and 1989.

In most cases, the database includes a student' s race, gender, SAT scores, high school grades, college major, college grades, extracurricular activities, graduate or professional school experience and family economic and social background. About 80 percent of the students from the 1976 and 1989 groups also answered detailed questionnaires about their experiences after school.

Here are the key findings of the study:

1. The authors found that black students who attended the schools in their study were twice as likely to participate in community service organizations after graduation than their white counterparts. Black graduates were also more likely to hold leadership positions in those organizations than the white graduates were.(graph)

2. The book details evidence refuting the argument that minority students with less than spectacular test scores would do better at less demanding schools. They found that black students who attended the most prestigious schools - including those with SAT scores below 1000 - graduated at higher rates than black students at less demanding institutions. Also, compared with students who attended less selective and academically challenging schools, the students at more selective schools also reported more educational satisfaction and were more likely to go on to graduate or professional school. (graph)

3. The authors found that race-blind admissions policies would have drastically reduced the number of black students at the schools in the database. By applying race-blind standards retroactively, they discovered that about 50 to 75 percent of the black students in the database would have been denied, depending on the school. They also discovered that a race-blind policy (graph) that focused on poor applicants - as some critics of affirmative action have suggested as an alternative policy - would also decrease the number of black students because the majority of poor applicants were white. On the other hand, the authors found that a white student who was denied admission under a race-sensitive policy would only see their chances of being accepted rise from 25 to 26.5 percent under a race-blind policy.(graph)

4. The book casts some doubt on the notion that many of the students admitted under race-sensitive policies are unqualified. While it concludes that test scores for black applicants in the database were significantly lower than those for whites, the study shows that 75 percent of black applicants had higher SAT math scores and 73 percent had higher SAT verbal scores than the national average for whites. More compelling than that fact, the authors point out that if race-blind policies were applied retroactively, the average SAT score for rejected black students would be 1145, while that of the accepted black students would be 1181. So, while the race-blind policies dramatically decreased the number of black students, it did not significantly increase the qualifications of those admitted.(graph)

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