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No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life

reviewed by Marybeth Gasman - April 05, 2010

coverTitle: No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life
Author(s): Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton
ISBN: 0691141606, Pages: 576, Year: 2009
Search for book at Amazon.com

Recently, the New York Times reported that applications to the nation’s most selective institutions are on the rise, making admissions at these institutions even more competitive than it has been in past years.  At my own institution, the University of Pennsylvania, there was an 18 percent increase in applications.  When I read the Times article, I could not help but wonder how many of these applications came from students of color, especially African Americans and Latinos.  I also wondered how many students from these racial and ethnic groups were actually admitted to elite institutions.  In their new book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria W. Radford explore the admissions processes at elite institutions and the subsequent experiences that students of color have on these campuses.

According to Espenshade and Radford, although they don’t say it explicitly, affirmative action is the most effective way to ensure the current levels of racial and ethnic diversity at elite institutions.  Even though there have been other practices put in place at some elite colleges and universities, they do not work to the same degree and with the same success as affirmative action.  Affirmative action helps elite institutions to craft a diverse class and ensures equity and social justice for racial and ethnic groups that have been excluded and oppressed for decades.

Most books related to affirmative action and college admissions tend to be philosophical in nature.  What sets this book apart, and makes it slightly more useful in the hands of supporters and dangerous in the hands of critics, is the hard data. No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal draws its conclusions from data related to academic performance and student experiences.  The authors use data from 9000 students at 10 elite institutions.  Although the institutions are not named, one can come to some conclusions as to which colleges and universities were included in the study.  

One of the major findings in the book is that depending on a student’s race, the student could have an advantage or disadvantage in the admissions process if decisions are based on SAT scores (something that even the producers of the SAT advise against).  For example, African American students can gain admission to an elite institution with lower SAT scores and Asian Americans need higher SAT scores to be admitted.  At first glance, this can look unfair.  However, if one considers the history of intense discrimination toward and oppression of African Americans, leveling the playing field makes sense in order to ensure equity.  That said, I am troubled when Asian Americans with slightly lower test scores are penalized because of stereotypes based on the model minority myth.  The trick really is for these elite institutions to admit a diverse class of students who will succeed.  Admitting a diverse class evens out the privilege offered by elite institutions and opens doors to that privilege to those other than White America.

Please note that I talked about students who can succeed above.  I am not an advocate for admitting students to elite institutions who will not succeed.  However, there is evidence that students of color, even those with lower SAT scores, achieve success.  The data in No Longer Separate supports previous studies on students of color at elite institutions, including William Bowen and Derek Bok’s The Shape of the River.  For instance, Espenshade and Radford found that graduation rates were virtually the same across racial and ethnic groups.  The authors did find that African Americans and Latinos tended to graduate in the bottom quintile of the class, but they graduated nonetheless, and that is what is important.  And, if one considers the class differences between Whites and students of color attending elite institutions as well as the differences in campus experiences based on daily microaggressions felt by students of color, position in terms of class rank makes more sense.

Another major finding in the book pertains to the interactions among students of different racial and ethnic groups. Past research, including that by Sylvia Hurtado, has shown that students benefit when they interact with students of other racial and ethnic backgrounds.  However, Espenshade and Radford found that students at elite institutions do not frequently interact with one another in meaningful ways.  Of note, while Whites and Latinos have the most interaction across racial groups, African Americans and Whites have the least amount of interaction – demonstrating the racial divide, based on a history of Jim Crow and slavery, which continues to exist in the United States.  Colleges and universities have worked to create safe spaces for various racial and ethnic groups, which is positive.  However, they also need simultaneously to create opportunities for these same students to interact, and promote the benefits of this interaction.

As someone who cares deeply about the diversity of my classes and the student body we admit at Penn and other elite institutions, I was eager to read Espenshade and Radford’s book.  After completing the book, I can say I learned a great deal, but I was not wholly satisfied with the authors’ conclusions.  I would have liked them to take a stand on some important issues.  Of course, I know that wading into the affirmative action zone can be treacherous, but those of us who care have to do it.  If we do not, despite our pleas that we support affirmative actions, we will find ourselves in a situation with little diversity in our classrooms and on our campuses.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 05, 2010
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15940, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 4:58:36 AM

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About the Author
  • Marybeth Gasman
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    MARYBETH GASMAN is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the history of African American higher education, Black leadership, fundraising and philanthropy, and the experiences of students of color at elite institutions.
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