TUESDAY, AUGUST 29, 2017
How under-represented are they: Are black and Hispanic students "under-represented" at the nation's most highly-regarded colleges and universities?
According to a front-page New York Times report, black and Hispanic students aren't just "under-represented" at the 100 schools the newspaper chose to survey. According to the Times, blacks and Hispanics are more under-represented at those schools than they were in 1980!
That's a wonderfully gloomy-sounding claim, the type big newspapers love. But uh-oh! Given the peculiar statistical framework the Times adopted in its report, we aren't real sure that the claim is accurate.
For today, let's start at the beginning, with a basic question. To what extent are black and Hispanic youth currently "under-represented" at these schools? How under-represented are they?
Let's start with Hispanic students. According to the New York Times' data, 22 percent of the nation's college-age population was Hispanic in 2015. But only 13 percent of freshmen at the 100 schools under review were Hispanic.
The representation was somewhat more robust at the eight Ivy League schools, where 15 percent of the freshmen were Hispanic.
A similar situation obtained for black students at these schools. According to the Times, 15% of the nation's college-age population was black in 2015. But only 6% of the freshmen at the top 100 schools were black that year.
Again, the figure was higher at the eight Ivy League schools, where 9% of the freshmen were black.
In the sense defined by these numbers, blacks and Hispanics were under-represented at these academically competitive schools. That said: Given well-known achievement data from the nation's public schools, this basic fact shouldn't come as a great surprise.
At present, white and Asian-American students still outperform black and Hispanic students on most measures of academic achievement. On average, they still do so by fairly substantial margins, despite large gains by all four groups over the past few decades.
In its short front-page report, the Times gave a brief, rather selective list of reasons for these "achievement gaps." Stating the obvious, eliminating those public school achievement gaps should be a top priority.
Those achievement gaps go a long way toward explaining the "enrollment gaps" at these competitive universities. Until those achievement gaps are erased, enrollment gaps of the type we've described are likely to remain.
The Times devoted one paragraph to the reasons for those achievement gaps. In truth, the New York Times has never shown much interest in questions of this type. We've never seen any real sign that this foppish, upper-class newspaper actually cares about the interests of low-income and minority kids.
The Times spent little time last week examining the reasons for those achievement gaps. Instead, the paper rushed ahead toward its latest gloomy conclusion: blacks and Hispanics are even more under-represented at the nation's top schools than they were in 1980!
That conclusion sounded wonderfully gloomy. It sounded like nothing has worked—and in this age of "education reform," that's always the desired conclusion in reporting of this type.
Last Friday morning, the New York Times reached its latest exquisite, gloomy conclusion. Tomorrow, we'll ask a basic question:
Was that conclusion accurate? Did the Times' procedures make sense?
Visit our incomparable archives: This is our third report in this series. For last Friday's report, just click this.
For yesterday's report, click here.