Elevate Difference

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

No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal is a thorough and accessible study of race- and class-based dynamics at elite American colleges and universities. Sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford report on the racial and class makeup of student populations at top U.S. schools at various stages of their college careers, and conclude with suggestions for closing the racial academic achievement divide in American society more broadly. The result is a lucid and informative analysis that will benefit students, parents, admissions officers, teachers, and anyone interested in how race and social class come to bear on prestigious campuses.

The first six chapters of No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal analyze patterns of application, admission, scholarly performance, financial aid, and other factors among Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian students at America's most selective undergraduate programs. However, non-specialists and readers most interested in the potential applications of Espenshade's and Radford's research may wish to concentrate on the final chapters, which consider both affirmative action and class-based admissions procedures. Because elite colleges have more financial wherewithal than public universities, the authors charge top schools with the responsibility of recruiting, admitting, and graduating more low-income students. Especially rousing is the authors' call for the establishment of an American Competitiveness and Leadership Project (ACLP), which would work both to identify causes of the racial academic achievement gap between Black-White and Hispanic-White students and work to combat this gap on a national level.

As a first-generation college graduate from a poor family, I found this book both tremendously interesting and, sometimes, a bit at odds with my own college experience. While the authors rightly make the point that on-campus jobs identify less affluent students to their wealthier peers, it seems to me that class divisions among college students can be apparent in much more entrenched and longstanding ways—from clothes to vocabulary, from parental involvement to extracurricular activities—for work-study to be of so much significance as a class identifier. The authors' suggested substitution for work-study, however, is exciting. Noting that students who have on-campus jobs tend to interact more often with people from different backgrounds, Espenshade and Radford propose mandatory campus-wide "community service activity" initiatives that would replace work-study programs and bring together students of diverse backgrounds. Such a program would benefit both campus life and community outreach.

Another drawback is the book’s reliance on four broad racial categories, White, Black, Hispanic, or Asian. The authors are quick to acknowledge the different multiracial, immigrant, and descendant identities that comprise these categories, but at times the groupings still feel a bit reductive. This is especially evident in the book’s treatment of Native American and Pacific Islander students. While “American Indian/Native American/Alaska Native” and “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” were options along the other categories on the student survey the authors used, these results are not discussed at length. The authors explain that “There was an insufficient number of individuals responding to the NSCE survey who listed Native American/Alaska Native to constitute a meaningful analysis category.” It didn’t seem to me that the authors spent any sustained part of their study focusing on Native American or Pacific Islander students, and some further elaboration of why not would have been helpful.

I have no background in sociology, so I was pleased with the readability of_No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal_. Espenshade and Radford demystify elite university admissions procedures and analyze the current state of racial and socioeconomic diversity at selective institutions, all in clear prose and with abundant statistical detail. Should universities implement class-based admissions? What roles should top schools play in eliminating racial inequality across generations of students? Not only does this book offer some answers to these questions, even more importantly, it will give you the tools you need to decide for yourself.

Written by: Barbara Barrow, January 27th 2010