G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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Here is the experience of one black student admitted to the University of Texas under the ’10% Rule’:
For Jarius Sowells, an African-American student from Dallas, the transition to academic life at UT-Austin was much more difficult than it was for Tedra Jacobs. Sowells, like many black and Hispanic students in the country, attended a high school that was made up mostly of minority and low-income students. “More than half dropped out,” Sowells says of his classmates. “Overall, the teachers had apathetic attitudes.”
Sowells graduated in the top 10 percent of his class and was automatically admitted to UT-Austin, his top choice. He planned to major in business. But Sowells didn’t know what to expect on his first day of college classes. His older brothers, who are twins, had enrolled in much less selective colleges, and neither of his parents had earned more than a high school diploma. “I don’t think my high school prepared me very well to begin learning at this institution,” Sowells says. “It was a culture shock. I was around people who didn’t look like me, didn’t talk like me.”
He signed up for several tough classes his first semester — microeconomics, business foundations, introduction to psychology, and rhetoric. Within weeks he was failing. “I psychologically broke down,” he says. “I felt I couldn’t handle it.” The following semester he dropped out and returned home.
He didn’t give up completely, however. The following fall he was readmitted on probation. He began to build up his GPA, which is now a 2.7. He dropped his aspirations of majoring in business and switched to African-American studies. His plan is to become a lawyer; he’s counting on getting a high LSAT score to make up for his low grades. He thinks his persistence in the face of obstacles proves he has what it takes to go far.
At another Atlantic article discussing ‘mismatching’, cited in the OP, Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. wrote:
The student who is underprepared relative to others in that class falls behind from the start and becomes increasingly lost as the professor and his classmates race ahead. His grades on his first exams or papers put him at the bottom of the class. Worse, the experience may well induce panic and self-doubt, making learning even harder.
Sander and Taylor point out that at the University of Texas, the average black student falls at the 52nd percentile in terms of SAT scores whereas the average white student falls at the 89th percentile. Such “large preferences”, as opposed to more manageable “small preferences”, create more negative outcomes than affirmative action proponents let on.
Back to Sowells, who, if he is aware of ‘mismatching’ does not accept it as a valid explanation for his experience:
But Sowells himself sees his story differently. He thinks his UT-Austin diploma will give him a better start in life than a diploma from a less selective school like UT-Arlington — where only 42 percent of blacks graduate within six years — even if his grades aren’t as high. And if he struggled at UT-Austin, he says, it’s not because the school should never have let him in; it’s because it should have taken more responsibility for helping him succeed. He wishes someone had advised him against stacking up so many hard classes in his first semester, for example, or told him where to get assistance when he started to fall behind. “I think they could have done a lot more to help me,” he says.
Looking at the bigger picture, we have a young man who seemingly will graduate from a relatively good school with an inferior degree. Inferior in terms of future job prospects and inferior even on the students’ own terms. He’s going that route because it is too hard for him to earn a degree in the hard sciences or even business. If he went to UT-Arlington he could probably earn a degree in a more substantive field. If we’re looking purely in terms of economic rationality, black students should probably not make a habit of this.