April 24, 2024

This article serves as a continuation of the discussion initiated in the first article on the topic of affirmative action. In this follow-up, we will delve deeper into the economic data to enhance our analysis.

The first part of this series of articles delved into the historical and theoretical origins of affirmative action, providing a basis for understanding its limited impact on the working class in the United States. It is a policy that has predominantly benefited the middle and upper classes within American society.

During the period from 1997 to 2004, six states—Texas, California, Washington, Florida, Georgia, and Michigan—enacted bans on affirmative action. Subsequently, Washington and Texas reversed these bans, while Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Idaho adopted similar restrictions. The decline in Black enrollment primarily affected the most exclusive universities in states where affirmative action was prohibited. While affirmative action successfully increased the representation of Black students in highly selective institutions, its overall impact on Black college enrollment remained relatively limited. This lack of effect on minority populations continues to be observed in contemporary times.

Based on data from the Department of Education in 2021, the most recent year with available census information, approximately 19 million students were enrolled in higher education. Among these students, the demographic groups targeted by affirmative action policies include 2.3 million Black or African-American students, 3.6 million Hispanic or Latino students, 120,827 American Indian or Alaskan Native students, and 46,605 Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander students.

In the case of Black or African-American students, who constitute a population of approximately 40.2 million, those enrolled in higher education in 2021 accounted for roughly 9% of this demographic. When considering their enrollment at private non-profit universities, including the eight Ivy League schools, these students represented about 1% of the total Black or African-American population. As a representation of the entire Black or African-American population, the enrollment of students in private non-profit universities witnessed a growth of approximately 0.3%. Examining absolute growth, there was an addition of only 179,661 students admitted to these institutions between 2004 and 2021. Even with the implementation of affirmative action, the most recent data on total Black enrollment in higher education indicated a consistent decline since 2011, resulting in a cumulative decrease of 693,486 students. Furthermore, despite affirmative action efforts, the representation of Black and Hispanic students in 100 institutions, ranging from public flagship universities to the Ivy League, remained unchanged since 1980. [1]

Although affirmative action has successfully increased the enrollment of Black and Hispanic students at moderately selective universities, its impact has not been as pronounced at highly selective institutions. This discrepancy highlights the disproportionate concentration of Black and Hispanic students in public four-year and two-year colleges. While these institutions are less selective, they do not always offer the same level of affordability, often leaving working-class students from these communities burdened with substantial student loan debt.

In this context, it is noteworthy that bourgeois media often emphasizes concerns about diversity and compliance with diversity requirements. However, they tend to overlook the broader economic barriers faced by students. These obstacles include significant increases in the cost of living, such as rent, utilities, and basic necessities. These cost increases have been exacerbated by the deepening crisis catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic and further exacerbated by the onset of the imperialist conflict in Ukraine.

Within higher education, income segregation becomes evident as students from higher-income families tend to enroll in more selective and costly private colleges or universities. Meanwhile, students from lower-income households are often drawn to public institutions or community colleges. [2] This educational segregation can result in disparities in the quality of education, available resources, and opportunities accessible to students across various income brackets. The prevalence of income segregation serves as a valuable indicator of class-based admission patterns in college and proves to be a useful instrument for highlighting the class-based divisions within and between the institutions of higher education.

Within the Ivy-Plus colleges, encompassing the Ivy League schools and additional institutions like Stanford, MIT, Chicago, and Duke, there is a higher presence of students hailing from extremely wealthy families (the top one percent) than those from less privileged backgrounds (the bottom half). Take Harvard, for instance, a school serving as a typical example of income segregation seen across similar colleges. At Harvard, approximately 70% of students come from households with incomes exceeding $110,000. A study that categorized Ivy-Plus schools based on their selectivity tiers unveiled a clear pattern: as income levels decrease, the likelihood of students attending less selective institutions increases. [3] This underscores the significant income gap within the student population of elite private colleges, where a majority originates from high-income families. This disparity exists even in selective public colleges like UC Berkeley, where over 50% of students belong to the top income quintile. In essence, the concentration of high-income students in elite colleges far exceeds what their internal data would initially indicate.

Even though these institutions admit diverse classes, the majority of students come from the wealthiest strata of society, regardless of their ethnic and racial backgrounds. Let’s delve deeper into Harvard, as it serves as an illustrative case study for trends within Ivy League Plus institutions. Despite Harvard’s claims of championing diversity, evidenced by its “most diverse class” admission in 2022, the socioeconomic composition of its student body remains essentially unaltered. Harvard hosts 15 times more students from the wealthiest one-fifth of the population compared to the poorest fifth. The number of students originating from the top one percent income bracket equals that of the bottom 60 percent. [4] A similar situation unfolds at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, self-branded as “the university of the people,” where students from the highest income quintile outnumber those from the lowest fifth by a staggering 16 times. Seventy-one percent of Black, Latino, and Native American students at Harvard come from college-educated homes with incomes above the national median. Such students are in roughly the most advantaged fifth of families of their own race. [5]

Nearly a year ago, Harvard and the University of North Carolina were brought to the Supreme Court for their affirmative action practices. Over 70 companies, including some of the largest monopolies like Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Meta Platforms Inc., and Apple Inc. came out in support of affirmative action programs being challenged at the two universities. [6] Why would the monopolies support this? The answer becomes clearer when we consider research that 54 percent of America’s top corporate leaders and 42 percent of government leaders are graduates of just twelve universities. [7]

A brief from all the companies claimed that corporate success stems from the “university admissions programs that lead to graduates educated in racially and ethnically diverse environments.” In addition, affirmative action helps “produce a pipeline of highly qualified future workers and business leaders prepared to meet the needs of the modern economy and workforce.” In the same court case, tech companies released a similar brief with other companies signing an “amicus” (friend of the court) filing which argued that affirmative action is a business imperative as noted by the 2003 case involving the University of Michigan Law School. Fewer companies joined similar efforts in two more recent cases involving the University of Texas at Austin.

A year after the Black Lives Matter uprisings erupted in 2020, more companies joined the push for diversity objectives. The twist, however, was that the fight against racism would be channeled into executive compensation schemes, contingent on companies buying a greater amount of labor power with a different skin color. [8] In essence, this strategy allowed these companies to tap into a mass of reserve labor: workers who bore the brunt of pandemic-related layoffs and job losses. For companies that experienced a significant decline in profits, they needed an incentive to reinvest their capital while presenting a progressive facade. Much like in the realm of academia, affirmative action in the labor market aligns with the investment interests of the monopolies.

For the monopolies, increasing diversity in elite colleges is crucial, not only for creating “inclusive” campus environments but also because these institutions serve as a gateway to the ruling class, or at the very least, to the mechanisms that perpetuate their influence over the working people. The bourgeoisie secures its market share, projects a facade of progressiveness, conceals its complicity in perpetuating racist violence against migrants and Blacks, and quashes the potential for a broader popular uprising. This diversion effectively redirects workers of all ethnicities and nationalities from the larger struggle against the monopolies and imperialism.

To further highlight the hypocrisy of the supposed “affirmative action” policies, avoiding setting hard quotas for other races, admissions officers employ the use of subjective personality attributes like “integrity, helpfulness, courage, kindness, fortitude, empathy, self-confidence, leadership ability, maturity, or grit.” This ensures that the most privileged classes are worthy of special consideration. Considering that Harvard’s “diversity” is predominantly composed of wealthy minorities, it’s not a surprise, then, that Harvard’s admissions program failed the Supreme Court’s standard of judicial review with race-based classifications.

The rhetoric of top universities regarding race-based admissions stands in stark contrast to the presence of legacy and “Z-list” admissions. Both of these admission mechanisms ensure that the children of alumni, who are predominantly white and affluent, gain admission at significantly higher rates than their academic performance alone would warrant. In contrast to legacy admissions, applicants on the “Z-list” are required to defer their studies for a year and often possess academic profiles similar to those who were initially denied admission. These practices also help in keeping alumni donors satisfied, as they contribute significantly to the financial support of these universities. At Harvard, for instance, alumni contributions make up 26% of donations, amounting to approximately $12 billion. [9] Furthermore, these practices serve as the ever-present logic of capitalism: the cost-benefit strategy. They allow the universities to allocate a greater share of their resources for scholarships, student facilities, and faculty salaries.

In 2021, the Ivy League universities bolstered their endowments with a staggering $48.6 billion. Projections indicate that their collective endowment may surpass the $1 trillion mark by 2048. Organized as non-profit entities, the Ivy League functions as an element in the generation of surplus value. Their combined endowment now stands at approximately $192.6 billion, demonstrating a significant increase from the $144 billion reported in 2020. [10] Harvard, in particular, stands out with an endowment of $50.9 billion, surpassing the GDP of many countries.

These substantial endowment funds play a pivotal role in the web of the domination of monopolies. Harvard’s endowment, for instance, maintains major holdings, including Google, the Meta Platforms conglomerate (which includes Facebook and Instagram), NVIDIA Corporation, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited, Singapore-based delivery service Grab, and the online gambling company Light & Wonder. [11]

This sizable endowment is invested to continue the expansion of the circuit of capital, often exploiting workers of all countries. Moreover, it serves to align the interests of monopolies with affirmative action policies, ensuring ongoing investments from these institutions. This reinforces the response to the earlier question regarding why major monopolies support affirmative action, making the answer more transparent.

The presence of such substantial funds in the midst of class-based and racist barriers to a free and equitable education for the working class is deeply contradictory. Enrollment figures have been in decline since 2010, a trend that was exacerbated by the pandemic and aggravated by soaring tuition expenses. Concurrent with inflation and the escalating costs of daily life, access to education is being denied to numerous young individuals, particularly those from working-class families. Public schools are being systematically underfunded, and the educational system is being gradually handed over to privatization schemes.

In the schools of capitalist society, a student’s family income poses significant hurdles. Furthermore, these schools perpetuate divisions among students based on race and class. The policies implemented within schools become a battleground influenced by the two poles of the bourgeois political system. Caught in the crossfire of this ideological struggle over curriculum and values, teachers often find themselves under scrutiny. Meanwhile, schools are falling apart, afflicted by mold infestations and outdated structures. Shortages of teachers, substitutes, and support staff create an unsupportive environment from a child’s very first steps into the education system. These institutions often lag behind in adopting modern technology, leaving teachers with obsolete equipment and tools.

The majority of the previously mentioned problems have a more significant impact on schools with a higher proportion of working-class students who belong to racial or ethnic minorities or are migrants. These schools are left to flounder and when they are forced to fail, the business groups, with the blessing of the state to “save the school,” swoop in with their charter and private schools.

It is true that supporters of affirmative action claim to be “socialist” and “Marxist”, and it is also true that many working class minorities feel identified with this policy. However, this does not mean that these perspectives are correct, since in their essence the racial antagonisms between people are preserved, while the class issue remains in the background.

Affirmative action does not seek to improve the conditions of working class minorities; such is its nature that among some of its most outspoken advocates there are none who are popular representatives of the working people. On the contrary, the names of those and the institutions who shout its praises and demand its implementation defend the structure of bourgeois democracy that reproduces the practices of violence, neglect and exploitation of working class racial and ethnic minorities. We are convinced that it is not enough to reform the laws or modify the policies of higher education to eradicate inequality and oppression. Furthermore, the incorporation of more minorities into state or business leadership has done nothing but give a mask of equality to the capitalist state. No matter how progressive the policies of the bourgeoisie seem, they cannot address the systemic problem that occurs at the very beginning of a child’s journey into the education system. They cannot rectify an issue embedded in the profit-driven nature of the capitalist system. No government campaign or strategy will resolve it because its causes are structural, they are embedded in the roots of the capitalist society in which we live.

All the arguments against affirmative action bans have overlooked a stark reality: “Elite universities, no matter how high-minded, have corporate souls and bottom lines.” [12] These colleges and universities that claim to be “committed to diversity and inclusion” are only diverse to the extent that the racial composition of their affluent student body aligns with this image of morality. They are diverse only to the extent that the ruling class is able to continue to exploit the workers of all countries.

The United States’ history of racial segregation in schools and its overall societal structure, which perpetuates racial antagonisms, is a product of the capitalist system. For the complete abolition of all types of inequalities, whether economic, political, legal, cultural, or otherwise, including inequalities in relations between races – and along with them, the ideology of the dominant class that enables violence against minorities – it requires the abolition of the exploitation of man-by-man and the division of society into classes based on capitalist ownership of the means of production. This paves the way for the emergence of a new society. Such a society lays in the outcome of the great struggle of the workers and people, for the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of workers’ power. 

Footnotes

  1. Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/24/us/affirmative-action.html
  2. Income Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility Across Colleges in the United States https://opportunityinsights.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/coll_mrc_qje_paper.pdf
  3. SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS, RACE/ETHNICITY, AND SELECTIVE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/559296/tcf-carnrose.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  4. Economic diversity and student outcomes at Harvard University https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/college-mobility/harvard-university
  5. Harvard’s Diversity Problem Goes Deeper than Race https://time.com/6295329/harvard-diversity-problem-class-essay/
  6. Google, Apple Back Affirmative Action in Harvard Case https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-01/google-big-business-back-affirmative-action-in-harvard-case?embedded-checkout=true
  7. The Future of Affirmative Action https://tcf.org/content/report/future-of-affirmative-action/
  8. CEO Pay Increasingly Tied to Diversity Goals https://www.wsj.com/articles/ceos-pledged-to-increase-diversity-now-boards-are-holding-them-to-it-11622626380
  9. Harvard Received $1.4 Billion In Donations Last Year https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/02/11/harvard-received-1-4-billion-in-donations-last-year-infographic/?sh=2e71c2dd3631
  10. Ballooning Ivy League Endowment Forecasted To Top $1 Trillion By 2048 https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamandrzejewski/2021/10/31/ballooning-ivy-league-endowment-forecasted-to-top-1-trillion-by-2048/?sh=6a03d97b3a37
  11. What Does Harvard Know That You Don’t? 3 Stocks the Ivy League Giant Is Betting On Now. https://investorplace.com/2023/05/what-does-harvard-know-that-you-dont-3-stocks-the-ivy-league-giant-is-betting-on-now/
  12. The mess that is elite college admissions, explained by a former dean https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/5/1/18311548/college-admissions-secrets-myths