Book by Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford
Review by Barbara E. Cohen
Academic Advisor & Adjunct Instructor
Ivy Tech Community College-Central Indiana

Great strides have been made in opening educational opportunities at elite colleges for students of color and other minority groups since the U.S. Supreme Court declared “separate but equal” policies unconstitutional. But significant questions remain about the value of affirmative action in college admissions.

In the 21st century, are colleges color- and class-blind yet? To what extent have students once deemed “separate” by race or socioeconomic class been able to take advantage of the opportunities open to them at America’s elite colleges and universities? Has the introduction of a multicultural student population improved college life for all students at elite institutions? 

Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford give away their conclusion in the title of their new publication, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: “Diversity” students admitted to elite colleges through affirmative action programs have not achieved parity with their privileged, white peers, and unbiased, multicultural thinking has been slow to take root in campus life.

This study explores the extent to which affirmative action programs have succeeded in removing racial and cultural bias in admissions and campus life at elite colleges, concluding that not enough progress has been made – yet. More importantly, the authors take the next logical step, stimulating a discussion about new and better ways to remove barriers to equality.

For academic advisors, the questions posed by the authors come down to this: What can we do to ensure that students from all walks of life are prepared to take full advantage of admission to elite colleges? What can we learn from existing programs at elite colleges, which the authors see as the “vanguard of innovative change in higher education” (p. 10), that will lead to better results for multicultural students at all public and private colleges and universities in North America?

The book divides neatly into two parts. The first is a thorough study of existing admissions and college life measures at eight elite colleges, based on the 1997 National Study of College Experience. The authors found, by and large, that there’s no advantage to a student attending an elite institution if the student doesn’t succeed (i.e., complete a degree) there. Barriers to admission may have fallen and students at selective schools may “interact more frequently with their classmates from other racial and ethnic backgrounds” (p. 225), but race and class still divide students when it comes to graduation rates and class rank at graduation.

In the final chapters, the authors make a persuasive case for new perspectives and programs to achieve the goals of affirmative action. Many readers will turn quickly to chapter 9, “Do We Still Need Affirmative Action?” and chapter 10, “Where Do We Go from Here?” to explore the authors’ suggestions.

Ultimately, the authors conclude that better preparation is the best way to narrow the gap between elite, white students and students of color or socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In other words, to achieve a level playing field, students need better preparation and counseling, not additional special programs. To this end, the authors propose the establishment of an American Competitiveness and Leadership Project (“a Manhattan Project for the behavioral and social sciences – a project with the same scale, urgency, and sense of importance as the original Manhattan Project,” p. 403) to identify the causes of racial and class gaps in academic achievement – and to propose new measure to close these gaps nationally

Whether or not you agree with Espenshade and Radford, there are valuable lessons here for creating a multicultural, heterogeneous environment on elite college campuses – and by extension, at all public and private colleges and universities in the United States – and for helping students realize their potential beyond graduation.

The key lesson for advisors: When African-American, Asian, Hispanic and/or multiracial students choose colleges where they will excel based on their ability without regard to the prestige of the institution, students can succeed academically – and aid in eliminating existing negative stereotypes. But when under-prepared minority students are induced to enroll at elite colleges without sufficient preparation, the academic benefits or social advantages that might be obtained from an elite education often remain frustratingly unattainable for many of them.

Even if you don’t find the specific plan proposed here compelling, this book is a call for new measures of equality that will be hotly debated.

No longer separate, not yet equal: Race and class in elite college admission and campus life . (2009). Book by Thomas J. Espenshade & Alexandria Walton Radford. Review by Barbara E. Cohen. Princeton, NL: Princeton University Press. 548 pp. $35.00. ISBN # 978-0-691-14160-2
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