Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is this diversity? Rural students are among the most excluded from highly selective universities

An essay on the website Minding the Campus, by Russell K. Nieli, explores the question of diversity among students at highly selective universities. Nieli posits that elite schools consider diversity only when it includes racial diversity, which unfairly excludes "numbers of born-again Christians from the Bible belt, students from Appalachia and other rural and small-town areas, people who have served in the U.S. military, those who have grown up on farms or ranches, Mormons, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses, lower-middle-class Catholics, working class 'white ethnics,' social and political conservatives, wheelchair users, married students, married students with children, or older students first starting out in college after raising children or spending several years in the workforce."

Nieli primarily bases his commentary on a book by Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life.  They found that participation in high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America (now simply the FFA, and not limited to future farmers) was "found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges," Nieli writes. "The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards."  Espenshade and Radford say excelling in these activities is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower chance of admission. Their conclusion: It not only does not help kids, it hurts them, to be leaders in the groups often found in rural high schools.

"Farm boys from Idaho would do well to stay out of their local 4-H clubs or FFA organizations — or if they do join, they had better not list their membership on their college application forms," Nieli writes. "This is especially true if they were officers in any of these organizations. Future farmers of America don't seem to count in the diversity-enhancement game played out at some of our more competitive private colleges, and are not only not recruited, but seem to be actually shunned. It is hard to explain this development other than as a case of ideological and cultural bias." Nieli received his Ph.D. in political philosophy from Princeton University and currently works for Princeton's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. (Read more)

New York Times columnist Russ Douthat also weighed in recently on the discussion of the Ebenshade and Radford book. He suggested that "the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or 'Red America.'" And because the highly educated and liberal lack contact with rural, working-class America, it "generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what's being plotted in the heartland." Douthat concedes that universities are not going to narrow the cultural divide, but advises, "If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there's more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers." (Read more)

1 comment:

elrojo said...

did i miss any responses from the elite schools? my kids have degrees from harvard, stanford, u of va, u of md, george mason, Georgetown Law School, and have attended GWU.