Outsourcing Affirmative Action: Colleges Look Overseas for Racial Diversity

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action in a case brought against the Michigan Law School. But in another suit against the undergraduate school, the courts ruled against a system that gave preferential points, but allowed the college could take race into account in admission.

"It's still the law," said Wilcher, who worked in the Clinton administration enforcing affirmative action compliance. "The Supreme Court made it clear that you need to take race into account. Affirmative action is still alive and well."

Wilcher argued that decisions based on race are still important. "There are not that many Bill Cosby kids who go to private schools and have alumni at the colleges," she said.

Wilcher graduated from one of the all-female Seven Sisters colleges in 1973 and said she was not surprised about the study's findings. She recently returned to her alma mater for a black alumni conference and discovered there were fewer African-Americans than foreign nationals -- a marked difference from her day.

"We had a discussion because there were so many more native-born Caribbeans and Africans, and it created a lot of tension among students," said Wilcher. "We asked the administration, and they said they counted these groups as part of the black population.

"I am not xenophobic, but you can't take the easy way out," said Wilcher. "You may have to look harder to find qualified African-American students, but affirmative action was never meant to be easy, otherwise you wouldn't need it.

"Foreign-born blacks may be 'easy to get along with,' but it does not take the onus off the college to seek out African-Americans who suit their admission profiles," Wilcher said, noting that American demographics are changing and soon blacks, Hispanics and Asians will be in the majority.

"If these students aren't educated, who will be our future leaders?" she asked. "I think about our national interest and economic competitiveness. We cannot afford not to have affirmative action."

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education cited Harvard, Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Columbia universities for having the highest percentage of black students in their fall 2006 classes. The percentage of black freshmen at elite colleges and universities ranged from a high of 12.3 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to 1.4 percent at the California Institute of Technology.

At Princeton University, 9 percent of this year's freshman class listed themselves as black Americans. Sophomore Danny Scotton Jr., a native-born African American and "descendant of slaves," said that he is a minority on campus where many black students are first and second generation African or Caribbean immigrants. He said he thinks international students gain admission because they perform better in school.

"In my opinion, African immigrants are the most highly educated group in all of America," Scotton said. "If their parents are willing to leave their country, they are going to instill a good work ethic and an emphasis on education in their children. Also, studies have shown that many immigrants have at least one parent with a degree. Compare that to America, where black men are more likely to go to jail than to college."

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