Education and Poverty

How College Admissions Favor Wealthy Students Over Underprivileged Minorities The growing debate over whether college admissions are partial by overstressing standardized tests and GPA has become a very controversial topic in the realm of education. Numerous students argue that the admission process is unfair in placing a greater emphasis on certain stressed requirements, such as the ACT/SAT, while neglecting to examine the whole applicant. Those who argue against the admission policy believe that each student in the United States comes from a very diverse background, and each application should be looked into with intricacy, rather than regarding just their requirements. Although those requirements are generally what the admission people look for in what they perceive as a quality student, those who argue against it feel that it is best not to overlook a student who overcame tremendous adversity, but just may have needed a point or two to get admitted. The central argument against college admissions has to do with whether challenging life conditions outside of school, for a student who is economically disadvantaged, should be weighted more than the slightly higher grade of a student with a different socioeconomic background in college admissions.

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In some cases, high school students must work full-time in order to support their families. If a college had to choose between a student who did not need to support his or her family and got a 33 on his or her ACT, and another student with a 29 on their ACT who worked almost full-time to support a family, which would be more likely to get accepted into an Ivy League college if both students had the same 4.0 GPA, classes, and amount of important clubs, etc.? Odds are, the one with the higher ACT will get selected, and those who debate the issue feel that this is where it becomes inequitable. Students argue that working over thirty hours per week while taking the same challenging classes classes shows better work ethic than a student who has an extra thirty hours a week to study. There are a variety of refugees and immigrants who fled their homelands because of jobs, famines, wars, or particular life threatening circumstances, with very little resources to bring with them. For this reason, it is very difficult for them to absorb the opportunities that well-settled students have. This includes private schooling, tutors, standardized test practices, etc. This gives domestic affluent students a better chance to succeed, due to better overall educational opportunities.

The education at a private school is superior to that of a public school because of higher set standards and a very well disciplined system. In Teaching With Poverty In Mind, author Eric Jensen exemplifies a chart indicating that family income correlates significantly with children’s academic success (10). For poor students, a negative correlation is drawn with absenteeism, the factor that most closely relates to dropout rate. For tests like the ACT and SAT, deprived minorities are at the disadvantage because English would be their second language. Some think that most colleges overlook several variables that determine a student’s mental capacity. That is why some educators debate that their needs to be more of a holistic approach because sometimes, a certain factor can stunt a student success, when they may have the abilities to become the next Einstein. The economic value of a particular place or education is how willing a family is to relocate to provide their children with higher education potential; this can be measured by the pricing of housing.

Majority of migrant families do not have the ability to relocate and provide better education for their children, meaning that they have to accept being in poverty and not having a strong educational background (Paleso 3). The SAT has frequently been criticized for providing a cultural advantage for “wealthy whites.” In the website article, “SAT Racial Bias Proves Standardized Tests Are Geared Toward White Students,” Haleigh Collins states that tests like the ACT and SAT have been blamed for widening the achievement gap between whites and minorities. While the math section is objective, the critical reading section and writing section describe topics associated mostly with the white demographic. Often the passages are about subjects that white, upper class students are more exposed to. The verbal section favors white students by using language with which they are more familiar than non-white students. Collins also mentions that for 23 years Roy Freedle, a psychologist who works with ETS (the nonprofit “Educational Testing Service” that develops, administers, and scores standardized tests), has been working to prove that these emphasized ACT and SAT tests give whites an unfair advantage. His studies show that minority scores significantly lag when compared to whites of equal economic status.

As mentioned above, wealthier test takers benefit from being able to afford tutors that cost up to hundreds of dollars an hour to private college counselors; students with means and access to additional help can often bring their scores up significantly. For example, several students see a great increase in their scores after practicing these tests and taking them over and over. Just through coaching and exposure to the tests, they start seeing trends, which enable them to do a lot better. Students who can’t afford or don’t have access to this are at a huge disadvantage. Unfortunately, situations such as this occur often. John Overton High School student Amad Amedy, a full time worker and athlete with an ACT composite score of 29 and a 3.9 GPA, stated that he felt college admissions are crooked. He believed that a underprivileged student who works full time and is more active in after-school clubs and sports should be weighted equally, if not higher, than a student who has just decided to focus and do well in school only, especially if they are not that much more accomplished than the working, social student.

He discussed that sometimes students get home late from work and do not have time to study because they need to sleep in order to wake up and take an important test in the morning. Amedy concluded by saying that a well-rounded student will use his extensive knowledge of various trades that he picked up from experience to get further than someone who just stays at home and studies, and that the social and vocational skills earned by working and engaging in extracurricular activities are as valuable as the intellect gained from studying textbooks and researching academic journals. Another John Overton High School student, Benjamin Demonbreun, who is an unemployed student, salutatorian, and National Merit Semifinalist, with a 33 composite on the ACT and a GPA of 4.0, strongly disagreed with Amedy. Ben believed that the standard requirements were a good way to determine who should be accepted into prestigious universities. He argued that students such as himself worked extremely hard, day in and day out, in what they have needed to do, which is get exceptional grades.

Alongside Benjamin, students contest that although they may have had a slightly greater advantage, it does not mean that students such as Amedy have worked harder than them or deserve it more, solely because they do a few things outside of school. Ben discussed that he has never needed to support a family; school has always been his priority. He believes that emphasis on standardized tests and GPA should not be dismissed by any means because they are a huge determining factor for work ethic, knowledge, and college readiness. In Teaching With Poverty In Mind, Jensen illustrates a few action steps such as more empathy towards the life of a migrant student (11). This better understanding may allow for a more lax curriculum that allows the student some wiggle room. Such steps are seen in MNPS with a new grading policy allowing retakes until students achieve mastery. A few universities have started to become familiar with this situation, due to growth in immigrant populations in the United States. There have been some universities who have abandoned SAT and ACT scores as a means of selection.

A growing amount of selective universities, predominantly Ivy League, are beginning to adopt a holistic admissions policy because the holistic approach is very thorough in evaluating the whole of the applicant, rather than reduce the applicant to a few pieces of empirical data, such as test scores and GPA. The holistic policy offers students a chance to show their accomplishments in several distinct ways, rather than only test scores and grade histories, giving people such as Amedy an opportunity to attend a high-status university and receive a wonderful education. With this policy we may see minorities provide a different perspective in different professions that help advance society and technology.

Works Cited
Amedy, Amad. Personal Interview. 5 April 2014.
Collins, Haleigh. “SAT Racial Bias Proves Standardized Tests Are Geared Toward White Students”. PolicyMic. 12 September 2011. Web. 1 April 2014. Demonbreun, Benjamin. Personal Interview. 5 April 2014.

Freedle, Roy. Interview. 1 April 2014.
Jensen, Eric. Teaching With Poverty In Mind. 2009. EBook’s (10-11), Web. 8 April 2014. Polese, Mario. The Wealth And Poverty Of Regions: Why Cities Matter. 2009. EBook’s (3). Web. 13 April 2014.

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