Affirmative action admissions decisions have come under scrutiny from the public and the press, resulting in a number of higher-level judicial decisions. Some institutions, such as those in the University of California system, have done away with affirmative action altogether, rekindling an age-old debate.

Simply put, affirmative action policies seek to facilitate upward social mobility but are outdated and inept for modern society. As a product of the civil rights era, affirmative action programs are not appropriate for the current sociological climate.

But as we move forward, we must be concerned about the philosophy at hand: Are race- and ethnicity-based affirmative action policies the best system for facilitating social mobility? Can we potentially use a different qualification that casts the umbrella over a greater proportion of the population?
The answer is a resounding yes. Affirmative action in the traditional sense has healthy intentions, but it ought to be conducted on the basis of socioeconomic necessity, as opposed to race and ethnicity. Such a method is apt, especially due to the trend toward greater wealth disparity between the richest Americans and the rest of the populace. As acceptance rates at top universities dip into single digits, expensive extracurricular activities and SAT prep courses have become critically important parts of a successful college application. With higher education becoming a prerequisite for high-paying jobs, those who have fewer resources in high school are less and less likely to move up in socioeconomic status, in effect dampening the “American dream.”

The current admissions system also curtails some top talent from gaining the most of the resources available at colleges and universities in America, which are among the world’s finest. It is a tragic occurrence when a talented individual, irrespective of his or her ethnic background, cannot get into college due to past lapses in academics caused by a lack of monetary resources. The current system essentially restricts our budding scientists, novelists and entrepreneurs from making significant contributions to society.

Not only would affirmative action based on socioeconomic status include a larger percentage of the population that needs the opportunity of a college education, but also it would help dispel the idea that only certain racial minorities deserve aid getting into college. While there is a greater concentration of poverty among the black and Latino populations (who are currently the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action), this population does not include the significant number of people from other ethnic backgrounds who are also steeped in poverty. The National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan stated that while 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics are poor, about 10 percent of whites and over 12 percent of Asians also fall under this classification.

By ensuring that socioeconomic conditions are the metric by which affirmative action policies for college are considered, we allow for the financially disadvantaged from other ethnic backgrounds to be considered more fairly in the admissions process. But this certainly does not preclude black and Latino students from receiving the same advantage because, as demonstrated above, a stronger proportion of poverty still exists in these sections of the population.

If my proposed method is ignored, we simply push the vicious cycle of economic stagnation to other ethnic demographics, and we allow their proportion of poverty to perpetuate in subsequent generations. This is clearly not the intention of affirmative action, and we must resolve to amend the system in order to meet an evolving socioeconomic landscape.

Of course, the challenge of making this change is substantial. Traditional metrics of college admissions, such as grade point average and SAT scores, can betray a lack of competence in a college-preparatory environment from the most qualified candidates because these metrics are geared toward environmental factors associated with wealth. Cultural dynamics play a large role in the construction of the SAT, and grade point average can be influenced by class size, teaching quality and resource availability, among other factors. By shifting this paradigm in a more equitable direction, we stand to increase the enfranchisement of our students to higher education and to better futures.

Parth Shah is a sophomore in the College.

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