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Filtering Out Equity? How Our Universities/Colleges Work Against Our Best Interest.

The U.S. higher education system has employed a filtering system that may forever prevent higher educational parity among those seeking to go to college. Filters are systems or elements used to remove unwanted substances and seem an apt analogy to describe current practices in higher education admissions’ policies. These filters act as barriers to admission and include--racial stereotyping, biased standardized tests, tuition cost, and legacy admissions. While any one of these filters might prevent someone from going to college, together they erect an almost impenetrable wall to admission for some.

While there may be other filters at play, these are the most disturbing and dangerous.

Unconscious/Conscious Racism

While most will deny being racist, as soon as someone walks in the door, racial, ethnic, and even religious heritage are quickly discerned. While such recognition by itself is probably innocuous, what follows as soon as someone is identified as a certain racial, ethnic, and religious background time worn stereotypes emerge. For example, I once encountered a situation at a university campus dining room in which the person I was with said; “Do you notice that all the Black students are sitting together?” My response was: “No, I notice all the White students are sitting together.” The first thing that impacted my friend as we entered that dining room was the racial makeup of those inside. Once the initial observation is recorded in the mind’s eye, racial stereotypes can quickly follow. The challenge then becomes are those stereotypes applied to the observed person (s) or does the observer separate him/herself from the mindsets those stereotypes engender? Are potential students outside the majority culture treated the same as those within the majority in the admissions process?

Biased Standardized Tests

In recent years, some institutions have wisely moved away from requiring standardized tests. Many reasons have been given for this transition including that the tests are culturally, racially, and religiously biased and that they do not necessarily predict a student’s success in college. Students outside the majority mainstream have different experiences than students within that mainstream. Questions engendered from popular culture may not reflect the particular experiences of students outside the majority culture. Also, test taking is a skill that is honed after much practice. All students do not have access to such practice and so may not perform at the same level as those who have had the gift of practice resulting possible in low test scores.

High Cost of Tuition

While students may jump the hurdles of racism and biased standardized testing, the high cost of tuition is a formidable obstacle for those wanting to go to college. Tuition continues to rise and often federal, state, local, and institutional aid are insufficient. Students with wealthy backgrounds have a much better opportunity of attending college than students who do not have such financial support.

Legacy Admissions

There is a common practice in many institutions of which many people are unaware. This practice is called legacy admissions. This is a practice in which universities/colleges give special consideration to children of alumni when deciding whom to admit. It provides a special pathway to admissions that students whose families are not alumni do not have. It rewards those families that have had opportunities in the past by providing a special track to being admitted. The classic distinction between the haves and the have nots is reinforced in this admissions practice.

Final Thoughts

Equal opportunity to higher education requires equal access. With these filters in place, equal opportunity may be the stated goal of higher education but impossible to achieve. Potentially good students are victims of this filtering process simply because of the racial/ethnic/religious makeup and lack of similar experiences and opportunities afforded majority students.


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