Funding Education is the Best Solution to Unequal Opportunity

While Americans have come a long way since the days of Brown v. Board of Education, new hurdles in the race to equal opportunity for education are constantly presenting themselves.

In recent and rather desperate attempts to pave the road to equality, the California Assembly passed a bill permitting the University of California and the California State University to consider “race, ethnicity, national origin, geographic origin, and household income in admission, so long as no preference is given.” Such a rash push for equality presents two problems, one dealing with the legality of the bill and the other with the ideology behind it.

According to Section 31, Article I (Proposition 209) of the California Constitution, “The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Proponents of the new bill naively argue that admissions officers can consider both race and gender issues without giving preference to one group, indicating the ideology behind the bill is too heavily rooted in idealism.

“I would argue that it is impossible for a human being to consider race without it becoming a plus or minus factor. Any consideration, if it’s brought into the equation at all, is violating Proposition 209,” said Director of Public Affairs for the American Civil Rights Coalition Diane Scharchterle.

Similarly, it appears unfeasible for UCSD to consider race in the current point-based admissions system without assigning preference, a clear violation of Proposition 209 and a direct conflict with the stated rationale for the bill — a push for equality among students.

Thus, the assembly failed to take into account whether or not their plan for equality had a practical and legal execution. More troubling than the legal concerns, however, are ideological problems that exacerbate the struggle in defining equal opportunity.

According to a University of California Admission Research Briefing Paper on “Underrepresented Minority Admissions at UC after SP-1 and Proposition 209,” in 1996 only 2.8 percent of blacks and 3.8 percent of Latinos were eligible for UC admission. Assuming similar trends, the study projected these numbers would shift to 2 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively, by the year 2008. At UCSD and UCLA, for example, the percentages of blacks composing the student body in the fall of 2004 were 1 percent and 3.8 percent respectively.

Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies and UCLA sociology Professor Darnell Hunt argues that “In the current environment, with no challenges to Proposition 209, we have few opportunities to ensure that the people populating the public institutions in the state in any way reflect its diversity;” and thus supports the measures of the bill. While Hunt is right to realize the state education system’s need to encourage diversity, implementation of this goal has long presented problems.

In response to the approval of Proposition 209, the University of California employed the Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC), which allowed students in the top 4 percent of their high schools, to become UC-eligible, with the hope that more minorities would become eligible. Unfortunately, this action contributes little to the quest for equal opportunity because it attacks merely a symptom of a disease-ridden education system. There exists a larger problem than merely the difficulty minorities face in college admissions.

Through the use of the ELC policy, which looks at high schools independently rather than comparatively, the state admits differences between schools. Rather than attempting to account for these differences in the admissions process, the state should remedy the sicknesses of K-12 education. Using the argument that minorities receive fewer opportunities in education as the basis for ELC exposes a long-standing deficiency in the school system, which is likely a result of poor socioeconomic conditions.

Thus, leveling the playing field for applicants means neither supporting affirmative action nor ignoring the disparities in race admissions entirely. Rather, solving one of the nation’s greatest equality struggles depends entirely on a compromise that requires liberals and conservatives to recognize a suffering K-12 education system. Only when Americans recognize the issue will they be able to pave the for a more democratic America that values equal opportunities for all of its citizens.

Moreover, consideration of race does not necessarily guarantee diversity. In the Supreme Court cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the court ruled the University of Michigan could consider race in admissions if no quotas were used. The University of Michigan’s ability to consider race, however, produces surprisingly little difference in diversity.

In the fall of 2004, the University of Michigan had a student body composed of 4.4 percent blacks, according to the student profile data from the Student Affairs Research group at the university. Using cooperative institutional research program data, the profile compared this number to that of other highly selective public institutions, which had 5.2 percent blacks.s

The slight difference between the percentages indicates race considerations will not guarantee diversity or equality, and the University of Michigan is only one example. The only real progress toward creating a country of more equal opportunity will result from increased equality in elementary and secondary education, not higher education.