August 2006 Newsletter
I am a reporter with U.S. News & World Report working on a story that would prohibit states from collecting racial and ethnic data–and what current thinking (academic, scientific, medical, etc.) is about and whether race is a legitimate way to classify people. How do students choose to describe their racial and ethnic background on college applications?
Rachel Hartigan Shea
U.S. News & World Report
Most students today are very savvy to the ethnicity question on a college application. You would be surprised at how suddenly many students dig deep into their roots. When faced with having to check one ethnicity box or the other, I have seen students suddenly consider themselves bi-racial just because they have one parent or grandparent who was Hispanic, African or Native American heritage. You wonder, what is to prevent an enterprising obstetrician from opening an elite hospital south of the border catering to North Americans who wish to give their children an edge in college admissions by making them Mexican by birth?
Although I often question the fairness of the system, I sometimes see students manipulating the system, but I’ll go along with them as long as they are honest. However, the real question is: Are these students truly under-represented minorities (URM) when they have been raised in a culture that is no different from their peers who are not minorities? I don’t believe so, but more importantly, the colleges to which they apply may not think so. If a minority student cannot share his/her ethnic background and culture within the college community, then the college has less of a reason for accepting that student.
Yet different colleges see this in different ways, and whether or not the college is going to accept the student based on his/her ethnicity all depends on the college’s philosophy and the current applicant pool. If a college needs to report X number of URM applicants, then that college will very likely accept the applicant.
With ethnicity as a criterion for admissions, verification is impossible and no one is going to check on the veracity of the applicant, unless of course, we shake each family tree with equal strength.