The dirty secret of elite higher education in the United States is that the focus on racial diversity provides cover for an admissions system that mostly benefits the wealthy and shuts out talented working-class students. The current framework of race-based preferences—a well-intentioned program that is deeply unpopular—disproportionately helps upper-middle-class students of color, helps justify a system of legacy preferences for the well-off, and pits working-class people of different races against one another. Major public and private universities have clung to the status quo anyway, because doing so is easier financially than helping disadvantaged students who require financial aid to enroll. These institutions act as if the predominant version of affirmative action is the only way to promote racial diversity, but that simply isn’t true. It’s just cheaper for them.
Class Matters: Imagining a Fairer and Less Divisive Future for Higher Education lays out a different vision. While the media is reporting widespread alarm that racial diversity will plummet if the Supreme Court disallows racial preferences when it hands down a ruling this spring, it doesn’t have to be that way. Ironically, in fact, a conservative Supreme Court decision curtailing race-based admissions will likely lead to a liberal public policy result – a new robust set of affirmative efforts to enroll low-income and working-class students, a disproportionate share of whom are Black and Latino. As the Supreme Court appears poised to issue an historic decision on race, upending a half century of precedent, Class Matters lays out a positive agenda for the next stage of elite college admissions that produces economic and racial diversity alike.