Class More Worthy Factor than Race in Affirmative Action

Class More Worthy Factor than Race in Affirmative Action

Socioeconomic class should be a substantial criterion when evaluating college applications

By: Arya Sureshbabu | Staff Writer

I’ve always considered the concept of applying to college both daunting and depressing. From the time I was in middle school, I’ve heard the demoralizing tales of incredibly qualified students who spent weeks drafting an impeccable essay and perfecting their resumes only to be rejected by their top-choice universities. As yet another graduating class of seniors finds itself in the midst of a flurry of applications, I cannot help but find my view substantiated further: college applications are indeed a matter of great distress for students. It was only recently, however, that I realized that no matter how troubling we may find writing those applications, the admissions counselors at top-notch colleges are faced with an even greater dilemma when forced to sift through thousands of such applications and make the difficult choice of who gets in and who stays out.

Were they to rely on purely objective criteria, these officials would be charged with dehumanizing students and turning every adolescent into nothing more than a set of figures without any concern for the potential environmental factors which had influenced their GPAs and SAT scores. If they implemented affirmative action based on race or gender, they would be instantaneously reviled as proponents of discrimination who attempt to mask their horrendous bigotry behind the need for “equality”. These criticisms are not without merit—relying on numbers alone does not provide a full picture of a student’s achievements, while allowing someone a leg up in university admissions because of the color of his or her skin reeks of reverse racism. How then, do we find a middle ground? The closest thing we have to a legitimate answer lies in a relatively new proposition: affirmative action based on socioeconomic class.

Nobody can deny that a person’s financial background has significant bearing upon the opportunities that are readily available to him or her. Students in affluent societies grow up with tutors, prep books, and a plethora of educational materials, receiving assistance in building up their resume almost from the very moment they set foot on a school campus. In contrast, students born into impoverished families often lack the means to get by on a day to day basis, let alone purchase vocabulary flashcards or hire personal tutors to ensure that they score above a 2200 on the SAT. Naturally, the vastly disparate daily lives of these two groups would result in lower test scores and grades for those who lack the monetary means to obtain extra assistance in their educational pursuits. Affirmative action based on socioeconomic class would essentially eliminate the damaging effects of this dichotomy by giving special preference to applicants who have performed reasonably well in spite of economic hardship, giving them the opportunity to secure a well-paying job and break out of the malicious cycle of poverty.

What is more, the notion of offering affirmative action based on class placates the protestors of the current system who reside on both sides of the spectrum. A Century Foundation report recently revealed that economic class is seven times more influential in determining test scores than race is. In the face of this evidence, both sides would have to agree that allowing affirmative action based on social class would both eliminate the specter of reverse racism and promote a more holistic view of applications by taking environmental influences into consideration.

The college admissions process will never be perfect. There will always be a student or two in every classroom across the United States who is bitterly disappointed or feels cheated out of his or her future upon receiving rejection letters in the spring. But perhaps introducing socioeconomic class as a criterion worth considering would be a step in the right direction by placing the rich and the poor on a more level playing field.