The Dark Side Of UVa’s Bright Racial Data

[NOTE: A small slice of what follows appears (here) on Minding The Campus]

A new academic year has begun, and as it does every year the University of Virginia is boasting about how well it does by — in part because of how much it does for — its black students. Some of the boasts are not without basis. As the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education pointed out as recently as last June, “The University of Virginia consistently posts the highest Black student graduation rate of any state-operated university in the country. And this rate has remained relatively constant over the past 20 years.”

Announcing this past week that “Graduation is the Floor, Not the Ceiling, for African American Students at U.Va.,” the University touted the efforts of its Office of African-American Affairs to ensure “that these students not only make it to graduation, and beyond, but thrive during their time at the University.” As evidence of success, the article quoted data from the July edition of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Journal of Education, guest edited by Maurice Apprey, U.Va. dean of African-American Affairs, showing that “the percentage of black students with at least a 3.0 grade-point average at U.Va. rose from 37.4 percent in 2009 to 51.9 percent in 2014. In addition, 30.2 percent of students who identified as ‘black’ in the class of 2012 graduated with high honors (above a 3.4 GPA), far above the 17.3 percent rate five years earlier.”

Without comparable information about the grades of other groups, including where those grades were earned (do more Asians at U.Va. major in the STEM fields, more blacks in education?), it is impossible to know whether these numbers reflect real gains in black student performance or simple grade inflation. The improved GPAs of black students also may reflect the attention lavished on them by the University’s Office of African American Affairs (perhaps the least “diverse” enclave on grounds; its dean, associate dean, and assistant deans are all black). That attention, as Dean Apprey explained last week, includes “a weekly small group tutoring and seminar program that offers course-specific help” and “faculty-student mentoring, in which students meet one-on-one with faculty members,” along with “post-graduate preparation.” The University’s mania for “diversity” coupled with its pervasive institutional support for the students whose presence produces it is almost enough to make one wonder whether faculty members have to get permission from a dean to give any grade below a “B.”

There is, of course, no comparable racially targeted support for Asians or whites, or economically disadvantaged students of whatever hue. There is, however, one “Program Coordinator” for “Hispanic/Latino, Native American, And Middle Eastern Student Services.” She has one office hour a week in her office and half an hour in the Alderman Library Cafe. Her office’s list of (presumably just Latino) “Resources” consists only of the Dept. of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese; Latin American Studies; Hispanic Studies in Valencia; La Casa Bolivar (Spanish House); and the inevitable “Report a Bias Incident.” (Is the extreme solicitude shown minority students itself a “bias incident?) Some “diverse” students are evidently more valued than others, or viewed as more in need of support.

It is also at least conceivable that the University has reined in some of the extensive admission preferences given to black applicants, resulting in less mismatched admits. Whether or not preferential treatment has been reduced, there are fewer black students at U.Va. now than there have been, raising alarms among the diversiphiles. According to an article about  a forum late last spring discussing these dwindling numbers, there were 1366 black undergraduates in 1991, 1199 in 2008, but only 946 in 2012 (a decline due at least in part to the “multi-racial” checkbox that appeared in 2009). The most recent number, from the 2013-2014 academic year, is 894 blacks (6% of 14,898 undergraduates).

The University, like all selective institutions that award admission preference based on race, routinely refuses to release data that might reveal the degree of racial preference it employs. That’s too bad, because It would be highly useful to be able to correlate entering SAT scores by race with subsequent GPA and graduation performance, but the University does not release SAT scores by race.

Also like all other selective, race-preference granting institutions, the University blithely maintains, as Carol Wood, U.Va. spokesperson stated in 2004 and many times subsequently, race is but “one of many factors” considered in admission. In fact, if race is given any weight at all some students are admitted and a corresponding number rejected only because of their race. If it is given much weight, many are.

Although current race-weighting data is not available, a good deal of information about the weight U.Va. assigned to race in the past has been pried loose by diligent investigators. Ms. Wood’s statement, for example, appeared in a 2004 Charlottesville Daily Progress article, quoted in my old post on “Drastic Racial Statistics From UVa” that reported some data on the applications received for that year:

  •    7% of the applicants were black
  •  12.3% of the admits were black
  •  29.4% of the non-black applicants were admitted
  •  57.1% of the black applicants were admitted

If race was only “one of many factors,” it was a mighty weighty factor indeed, a conclusion powerfully confirmed by several detailed analyses of U.Va. admissions conducted over the years by the Center for Equal Opportunity. Its analysis of students admitted in 1999, for example, found that after controlling for SAT scores, grades, residence, and legacy status the odds of admission for a black student compared to a similarly qualified white student were 111 to 1. “To put this in some perspective,” Linda Chavez of CEO wrote in a 2001 Wall Street Journal OpEd (quoted here), “the relative odds that a smoker compared to a non-smoker will develop lung cancer are 14 to 1.”

A detailed 2004 CEO analysis of U.Va. admissions conducted by David Armor, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, found similarly heavy racial weighting. “The median SAT score for all UVA admissions,” Armor’s report stated, “is 1350, while the average for admitted black students is 1026.” The gap, of course, would have been even wider if the black average had been compared to the average for whites or Asians, not all students. “For black residents with high school grade point averages from 3.3 to 3.7 and SAT scores from 1051 to 1150,” Prof. Armor also discovered, “nearly all (86%) were admitted, while only 8% of white students” were.

If U.Va. has recently ceased placing so much admissions weight on that “one among many factors,” it should release the data in its possession confirming its current practice. Indeed, all racial data collected by public institutions should be made available to the public. Refusing to release that data simply fuels reasonable suspicion that race remains a most weighty factor.

Evidence that U.Va. continues to place a heavy thumb on the racial scale can be found, perhaps surprisingly, in the University’s most vaunted “diversity” accomplishment, its consistently high — indeed, highest of any public institution — black graduation rate. The latest data — for the entering class of 2007 — shows that 82.8% of blacks graduated within six years, compared to 93.8% of whites, 94% of Asians, and 94.7% of “Unknown/Unclassified.”

That 82.8% may indeed be “high,” but its dark, almost always undiscussed other side is that 17.2% of blacks failed to graduate within six years, a rate nearly three hundred percent higher than whites, Asians, and the Unknown/Unclassifieds. That differential is one of the clearest markers of the “mismatch” — so ably analyzed by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. — that occurs when admission standards are significantly lowered for any identifiable group.

I have written about this glaring graduation gap at U.Va. almost as often as the University has bragged about its accomplishment, such as “… And Now Some Numbers From UVa, As Filtered Through The Washington Post” (2003), “Drastic Racial Statistics From UVa” (2004), and “Graduation Rate Gap: Is The Glass Full, Or Half Empty?” (2006). I have not, however, ever seen a reference to this gap in any University publication or comment, although I of course have not seen everything.

Usually even much smaller racial gaps generate heated academic and liberal condemnation. “To focus on the graduation numbers and ignore the dropout picture,” Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom perceptively noted in their devastating UCLA Law Review critique of Bowen and Bok’s The Shape of the River, “is like looking at black employment — rather than unemployment — rates.” Who, for example, praises our economy because 88.6% of blacks are employed? Certainly not the Washington Post, which just a few days ago carped about “a stubborn bit of data buried in the August jobs report” — namely, that “[t]he unemployment rate for blacks (11.4 percent) was more than twice that for whites (5.3 percent).”

The Thernstroms asked a penetrating question U.Va. officials would do well to consider, if they ever stop ignoring the cloud surrounding the apparently silver lining of their black graduation rate: “What would the college completion rates have looked like without race-conscious admissions?”

Presumably it would look like California after the passage of Prop. 209. “For the six cohorts of black freshmen who started at UC campuses before Prop 209 went into effect (the matriculating years of 1992 through 1997),” Richard Sander has shown, “the average 4-year graduation rate was only 22.2%. For the years since 1998 (matriculating years 1998 through 2005), the black 4-year graduation rate across the UC system is 39.4% — a near doubling.” As Sander and Taylor demonstrated in Mismatch, “Black and Hispanic students … graduated at stunningly improved rates…. Indeed,” they concluded, “the overall improvements were so large that graduation improvements tended to swamp declines in enrollment.”

Part of this dramatic increase in black graduation rates after the passage of Proposition 209 is no doubt due to the fact that some students with lower qualifications who would have been accepted to the more selective campuses with race preferences were now attending campuses where they were not mismatched, and graduating in higher numbers. But even the most selective campuses also experienced much higher black graduation rates post-Prop. 209. According to data published by the University of California system, 37.7% of the black students who entered UC San Diego in 1996, the last year before the passage of Prop. 209, graduated in four years. By contrast, the four year graduation rate of blacks entering in 2001 was 51.5%. The increases were similar at UCLA31.1% of those entering in 1996 increased to 53.7% of those entering in 2001 — and even at Berkeley28.8% to 35%.

Duke economist Peter Arcidiacono and his co-authors have similar findings in “Affirmative Action and University Fit: Evidence from Proposition 209,” published last May.

All these scholars agree, as Sander and Taylor put it, that “the effect would have been significantly larger had the university more rigorously implemented race neutrality and thereby further reduced disparities in the academic preparation of students on each campus.”

The lesson of California’s Proposition 209 is clear: If the University of Virginia really wanted to improve black GPAs and graduation rates, it would eliminate racial preferences altogether.

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