No issue in American higher education is more contentious than that of race-based affirmative action. In light of the ongoing debate around these policies and recent Supreme Court rulings, affirmative action policy may be embarking on a new path. As an alternative to race-based affirmative action, some analysts suggest affirmative action policies based on class. In Race, Class, and Affirmative Action, sociologist Sigal Alon studies the race-based affirmative action policies in the U.S. and the class-based affirmative action policies in Israel (the first of its kind to ever be implemented worldwide). Alon evaluates how these different policies foster campus diversity and socioeconomic mobility by comparing the Israeli policy with a simulated model of race-based affirmative action and the U.S. policy with a simulated model of class-based affirmative action.
Alon finds that affirmative action at elite institutions in both countries is a key vehicle of mobility for disenfranchised students, whether they are racial and ethnic minorities or socioeconomically disadvantaged. It improves their academic success and graduation rates and leads to better labor market outcomes. The beneficiaries of affirmative action both countries thrive at elite colleges and in selective fields of study. They would not be better off attending less selective colleges instead.
Alon finds that Israel’s class-based affirmative action programs have provided much-needed entry slots at the elite universities to students from the geographic periphery, from high-poverty high schools and from poor families. However, this approach has not generated as much ethnic diversity as a race-based policy would. By contrast, affirmative action policies in the U.S. have fostered racial and ethnic diversity; a level that cannot be matched with class-based policies. Yet, class-based policies would do a better job at boosting the socioeconomic diversity at these bastions of privilege. The findings from both countries suggest that neither race-based nor class-based models by themselves can generate broad diversity. According to Alon, the best route for promoting both racial and socioeconomic diversity is to embed the consideration of race within class-based affirmative action. Such a hybrid model would maximize the mobility benefits for both socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority students.
Alon also discusses the feasibility of implementation of different affirmative action models and concludes that class-based affirmative action, including the hybrid model, are not as straightforward to implement as the current race-based affirmative action. Alon recommendation for anyone interested in class-based affirmative action is to keep it simple, which in practice means relying on group affiliation more (for example, attending a low-performing high school or living in a poor neighborhood), and on individual circumstances less.
Race, Class and Affirmative Action moves past political talking points to offer an innovative, evidence-based perspective on the merits and feasibility of different designs of affirmative action.
ISBN: 978-0-87154-001-0 E-ISBN: 978-1-61044-854-3
Press Coverage for Race, Class and Affirmative Action:
Alon, Sigal. “When Race Is Left at the College Door.” New York Times, December 16, 2015, p. A35
Alon, Sigal. “Scalia was wrong: Students admitted through affirmative action thrive at elite colleges.” Washington Post, December 10, 2015
Alon, Sigal. “The case for real reform in college admissions.” Aljazeera America, December 10, 2015
Alon, Sigal. “Is class-based or race-based affirmative action best?” University World News, 22 April 2016
Alon, Sigal. “Affirmative Action Matters in Israel, Too.” The Huffington Post, January 11, 2016.
Alon, Sigal. “How Diversity Destroyed Affirmative Action.” The Nation, December 16, 2015
Interviews/coverage for Race, Class and Affirmative Action
The New York Time, NBC News, ThinkProgress, Marketplace, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Christian Science Monitor, The Ellison Report, Moments Magazine, SiriusXM satellite radio, The Root, University World News, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, The American Interest, American Renaissance, AFRO, Legislative Reference Library of Texas, Real Clear Policy, The Louisiana Weekly