According to the University of California’s (UC) 2010 diversity report, large racial disparities exist among the UC student population. Twenty percent of students are black and Latino while more than 70 percent of students are composed of Asian and white students. SCA 5 strives to diminish this gap by allowing race to be considered during the UC admission process. Protesters who accuse this amendment of discrimination forget that the current admission process is already discriminatory, as it fails to address the socioeconomic disadvantages historically linked to race. SCA 5 acknowledges the financial and social inequalities that affect an applicant’s academic success even prior to college, and levels the playing field for those who have been deprived of necessary opportunities.
Minorities’ economic disadvantages are apparent in the distribution of poverty in California. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 35 percent of impoverished Californians are African American, and 33 percent are Hispanic. In contrast, only 15.8 percent of the poverty-ridden are Asian or white. By directly influencing the quality of neighborhood schools and student access to supplemental aid, impoverishment can impact a student’s academic performance. Poorer schools may provide a lower-quality education while families may be unable to spend money on tutoring and SAT preparation. A New York Times study found that a student’s SAT scores strongly correlate with his family’s yearly income.
Poverty also impacts college attendance through social factors. A preference for cheaper housing often presses black and Latino families into neighborhoods fraught with violence and social instability. Thus gangs and organized crime groups are statistically more likely to draw in minority teenagers, who consequently make up 75 percent of California’s juvenile justice population. This neighborhood culture can disrupt a student’s focus on his academic success, while financial hardship could push youths to seek out paid work instead of completing high school or college in order to support their families. In California, only 18.7 percent of African Americans have earned a four-year college diploma, while 43 percent of whites and 50 percent of Asians have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Throughout the state’s history, socioeconomic inequalities have created an ever-compounding cycle that propels minorities’ lives of poverty and violence. Individuals who have not attended university are likely to continue in impoverishment and raise more children with fewer opportunities. SCA 5 seeks to break the cycle by restoring these deprived opportunities to disadvantaged minorities. Thus contrary to popular belief, SCA 5 is not an amendment stubbornly fixated on regulating the racial distribution of state colleges. Instead, it simply recognizes the pre-existing discrimination that minority groups face when struggling toward success.
SCA 5 asks for the repeal of parts of Prop 209, a proposition that was passed in 1996 prohibiting state institutions from taking into consideration race, sex or ethnicity. The passing of SCA 5, presented by California State Senator Edward Hernandez, would stifle our education system’s growth, would not correct the problems that it seeks to solve and would promote racial discrimination.
The goal of SCA 5 is to increase the number of students within California colleges and universities who are Latino, African American and Native American. This is due to the fact that though the population sizes of these ethnicities are increasing, the percentage of these races within higher education remains quite low. SCA 5 would effectively reinstate affirmative action and encourage schools to create racial quotas.
The first notable problem would be the increase in potential dropout rates. When Prop 209 passed in 1996, affirmative action was effectively canceled and the dropout rates for minority groups actually dropped significantly. At UC San Diego, graduation rates for African Americans doubled from 26 to 52 percent, according to Nationalreview.com. Even though the number of minority students within the UC system dropped, the number of qualified individuals who attended each school increased as schools were able to search for more qualified individuals. In addition, those who may otherwise drop out from the more challenging schools have a better chance to succeed in other schools.
In a study conducted by the Collegeboard, there were notable differences in the average SAT scores between members of different ethnicity. The average scores for whites and Hispanics differ by around 70 points, with the respective scores of 534 and 464. While a single number does not perfectly predict the path a student takes, there is still a strong correlation between the score and relative success within post-secondary education. Though there are evidently many successful Hispanics and African Americans, statistically speaking other ethnicities outperform them academically.
However, much of the disparity is not due to race. Instead, the problem lies within the socioeconomic disparity between the various ethnicities. According to the U.S. census, just above 10 percent of Asians and whites lie below the poverty line, compared to over 20 percent for Hispanics and African Americans. In this regard, targeting race without looking at the socioeconomic status of each student is akin to giving a hearing aid to a blind person—it’s not the right treatment for the problem.
In addition, SCA 5 is inherently racist. While it is not wrong to ask for one ethnicity to improve and succeed, doing so should not involve putting down other ethnicities. While it is true that Hispanics and African Americans form a significant part of California’s population, approximately 45 percent, this does not justify putting down the other 55 percent of the population. Even now, according to UCLA, the average high school GPA of an Asian American student entering the school is 4.28, while other ethnicities have average high school GPAs of around 3.7, showing that each race is already held to different standards.
Instead of passing SCA 5 and instituting affirmative action, which would cause inadequately prepared and less qualified students to enter a fiercely competitive environment, legislation should focus on the root of the cause by expanding primary school educational opportunities to a greater number of people. Those who show themselves capable will naturally be admitted into the best schools. It’s our job to elevate every member of every ethnicity to that level instead of lowering the bar of our educational quality.