April 21, 2000


College Students Oppose Racial Preferences

4 to 1 say political correctness and grade inflation harms their education

NEW YORK - One of the nation's most controversial issues is not at all controversial among America's college students. Four out of 5 say colleges should not use racial preferences in admissions decisions, a new survey conducted by Zogby International finds.

While 84.3 percent of students say ethnic diversity on campus is important, 86.4 percent say meeting academic standards is more important in admissions decisions than achieving ethnic diversity. And 92.7 percent oppose giving preferences to blacks and Hispanics, favoring fair enrollment instead. Four out of 5 students say lowering entrance requirements for some students, regardless of the reason, is unfair to the entire student body.

The Foundation for Academic Standards & Tradition (FAST), a nonprofit student advocate organization, commissioned Zogby to conduct the national survey of 1,004 randomly selected college students.

"This survey asked questions that institutions of higher learning have been avoiding. That's why we asked them," said Marc Berley, Ph.D., president of FAST. "We believe this survey will help colleges and universities focus on areas where they need to improve."

The 56-question survey covers a variety of issues concerning academic life at America's colleges and universities. While 9 in 10 students say they are getting at least a good education, 7 in 10 say they want their professors to challenge them more. And 78 percent say colleges need to focus more on traditional subjects that help students acquire valuable skills. Students are particularly concerned about fairness, excessive politics in the classroom, and grade inflation.

One of the most notable findings, said John Zogby, is how many students say their education is compromised by political correctness. A majority of students (55.4 percent) say political correctness restricts what they can say or learn.

"We've been hearing that political correctness is a creation of the media, but most students say it exists and harms their education," said Berley.

Key findings of the survey include:

On Diversity, Fairness, and Racial Preferences

* 84.3 percent say ethnic diversity of the student body is important; 84.1 percent say their campus is diverse.

* 92.7 percent say colleges should strive toward fair enrollment rather than use racial preferences and oppose giving preferences to black and Hispanic students.

* 95.7 percent say diversity of ideas and high academic standards are more important to a quality education than achieving ethnic diversity. Only 2.9 percent said ethnic diversity is most important, with white, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian students giving notably similar responses.

* 86.4 percent say fairness in meeting academic standards is more important in admissions decisions than achieving ethnic diversity.

* 77.3 percent say schools should not give minority students preference in the admissions process. (Students oppose racial preferences across the board: Whites 79.5%, Hispanics 71.4%, Asians 78.1%, African-Americans 51.9%, and Others 78.1%; Conservatives 82.3%, Moderates 81.1%, Liberals 66.7%)

* 78.9 percent say lowering the entrance requirements for some students, regardless of the reason, is unfair to the entire student body. (Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and Others agree 4 to 1; African-Americans agree 3 to 2.)

On Political Correctness and Intellectual Freedom

* 55.4 percent say political correctness sometimes restricts what people say and learn.

* 57.9 percent say there is too much politics in the classroom and colleges need to rededicate themselves to objectivity and intellectual freedom; 57.6 percent say there is too much political propaganda, both left-wing and right-wing, in the classroom.

* 68 percent say professors are unfair to students who express either liberal or conservative views.

On Requirements, Standards, and Grade Inflation

* 87.1 percent say general education requirements including courses in writing, history, English, and the arts are valuable.

* 78.3 percent say colleges need to focus more on traditional subjects that help students acquire valuable skills.

* 72.9 say grade inflation is at least occasional; 66.5 percent say grade inflation is bad for all students. Nearly half of the students (44.9 percent) report a grade point average between 3.5 and 4.0 (an A- average); 93 percent report a B- average or better.

On Student Satisfaction

* 71.8 percent say much of what should have been learned in high school is taught in college.

* 90.2 percent rate the quality of the college education they are receiving as good (49%) or excellent (41 %).

* 68.7 percent of college students want their professors to challenge them more.

* 4 out of 10 students say their college education suffers from "dumbing-down." (A majority of men, 50.1%-43.2%, and seniors, 48.1%-45%, say their education suffers from "dumbing down," as do a majority of African-Americans, 55.7%-34.7%; women say it does not, 55.3%-36%.)

On Value of Degree, Trust in School

* More students view a college degree as a social requirement than view it as a guarantee of valuable skills.

* A majority of juniors and seniors believe their school frequently has its own best interests in mind, as opposed to the interests of students.

The survey results are "both fascinating and complex," said Zogby, "a very revealing insight into the general atmosphere within the college institution."

"The survey shows that students embrace challenge and fairness, in many cases more than their schools," said Berley.

"America is struggling between being race-blind and race-conscious, and our young people, who are clearly tolerant, are pushing us toward a race-blind society," Berley continued. "The race question will not be easily resolved in America, given our scarred past. But it is heartening to see the dedication to true diversity and fairness expressed by students, who are our future."

FAST, founded in 1996, is a nonprofit organization created to empower diverse college and university students nationwide to improve the educational opportunities at their schools.

Zogby International conducted phone interviews with 1,004 college students nationwide, who were selected at random. The total minority sample was 18.6 percent. All calls were made by Zogby between January 8 and January 24, 2000. The margin of error is +/-3.2 percent.

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