After three decades of affirmative action in education, American blacks find themselves less likely to go to college than they did before the U. S. Congress made a mid-20th Century correction in civil rights laws, a new study finds.
“The irony for both Virginia and the U. S. is that black high school students were more likely than whites to attend college when the educational system afforded them the least opportunity,” Drs. Daniel M. Stuhlsatz and Paul Puryear wrote in an October 2004 study. “With the rise of effective black political organization and activism, and the legal success of the 50s and 60s, black graduates became less likely to attend college.”
Stuhlsatz and Puryear published their findings in The Virginia News Letter. The Virginia News Letter is published by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
“In Virginia, black college students until after World War II were significantly more likely to graduate from college than whites,” Stuhlsatz and Puryear write. “This changed dramatically between the War and the early 60s.”
Dr. Stuhlsatz is an assistant professor of sociology at Mary Baldwin College. Dr. Puryear is a retired professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.
“The network of historically black colleges was strong throughout the 20th Century, and before mid-century these provided for those few blacks given the chance to graduate from high school,” Drs. Stuhlsatz and Puryear found. “Black graduates responded to this opportunity at a greater rate than their white counterparts.”
“However, as the percentage of black high school graduates began to increase significantly in the 50s, the rate at which they considered college a viable option diminished relative to whites.”
Currently, even the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are jumping on the diversity bandwagon. Oddly, at least one of the HBCUs now has a majority white student population as a result of the school’s diversification.
“Black high school graduates across the nation attended college at rates higher than or similar to whites all the way through the Second World War years,” Drs. Stuhlsatz and Puryear note.
The two professors studied census data for the entire 20th Century to arrive at their findings. As we can see from the following chart, excerpted from one of their tables, blacks were more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees than whites before civil rights laws went into effect and have become increasingly less degreed with every wave of affirmative action regulations in education.
Percent of college students earning a bachelor’s degree or higher in the U. S., by race:
source: Stuhlsatz and Puryear
Thus, while every level of government and most colleges and universities push for racial diversity, they find themselves with even greater homogeneity than ever before. Truly, the affirmative action regulations that the national government and state and local officials enforce, aided and abetted by college and university administrators, show the law of unintended consequences played out with a vengeance.