One of the more interesting moments of the debate last night was the conversation about affirmative action, in which both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said they supported the inclusion of poor white children in the group of people who benefit from college admission preferences. The truth, though, is that most elite colleges already consider class alongside race as they try to diversify their student bodies. Enshrining this concept across the board is a good idea, but only if it is accompanied by a real commitment to racial diversity, as well.
That commitment is under threat this year, as voters in
five four more states (Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma) will be asked to either accept or reject ballot initiatives, crafted by the infamous Ward Connerly, that would roll back all affirmative action. While Clinton made a smart move last night in using the affirmative action question as a chance to pivot into a larger discussion of education reform, it’s important to remember that banning affirmative action affects a lot more than just college admissions. It would outlaw state programs that help women and minority business owners apply for government contracts, as well as after-school programs that introduce girls of color to science and technology careers.
Clinton’s statement was helpful, though, in that it reminded us that endlessly debating affirmative action — a policy that can boast of real successes, although it should be tweaked — is really a distraction from addressing the troubles facing our K-12 and higher education systems. She said:
I think we’ve got to have affirmative action generally to try to give more opportunities to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds — whoever they are. That’s why I’m a strong supporter of early childhood education and universal pre-kindergarten.
That’s why I’m against No Child Left Behind as it is currently operating. And I would end it, because we can do so much better to have an education system that really focuses in on kids who need extra help.
That’s why I’m in favor of much more college aid, not these outrageous predatory student loan rates that are charging people I’ve met, across Pennsylvania, 20, 25, 28 percent interest rates. Let’s make college affordable again.
cross-posted at TAPPED