Affirmative-Action Proposal Leaves Out the Middle Class

To the Editor:

Richard D. Kahlenberg’s Commentary essay “A New Kind of Affirmative Action Can Ensure Diversity” (The Chronicle, October 3) poses an interesting solution to the hot topic of affirmative action. In light of the possibility that affirmative action might be curtailed or eliminated by the Supreme Court given the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, the article proposes the idea of an affirmative action based on socioeconomic status. While I appreciate someone’s looking for alternatives, I still have concerns with the solution proposed by Mr. Kahlenberg.

His main argument is that affirmative action based on socioeconomic status can actually increase diversity and address the issue of class inequality in higher education. His examples—Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona—are convincing but still flawed. I would argue that given the complexity of institutions in the United States it is not a guarantee that just because such programs have worked at these institutions, they will work at others. One factor he lacks taking into consideration is regional differences in racial makeup. There are areas in the country where poor Caucasian students out number poor minority students. I would be interested to hear how Mr. Kahlenberg thinks his idea of affirmative action would still increase and secure diversity in these areas.

His solution also fails to address an important group, the middle class. Having been an undergraduate low-income student, I appreciate his idea of access for this group. However, as a master’s candidate now, my level of education suggests I will be part of the middle class, and I worry about my children’s access to higher education. If affirmative action is based on socioeconomic status, I dread that the middle class might have a harder time affording higher education that it already does. With some experience in the field of college admission I can attest that at many institution-driven schools, upper class students who can pay the tuition are balanced with the full-need students. If we move toward basing affirmative action on socioeconomic status, wouldn’t we would need to increase the number of upper-class students? Where does this idea include the middle class? If Mr. Kahlenberg has included the middle class in his solution, he fails to express it in his article.

I like his thought process of looking for alternatives in case the Supreme Court eliminates affirmative action. I commend him for being optimistic that his solution would address both racial and ethnic diversity and class inequality. However, I stand by the fact that his solution would not encompass all he hopes for. The article makes it is obvious that he has not considered all the effects that the elimination of affirmative action would bring. I just hope the Supreme Court does.

Tiffany De Leon
Los Angeles

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