School's Formula Offers Affirmative Action Alternative

'NYT' looks at how UC-Davis medical school looks at socioeconomic status, not race
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2023 12:37 PM CDT
School's Formula Offers Affirmative Action Alternative
Allan Bakke is hooded by his wife before receiving his degree in medicine during graduation ceremonies at the University of California-Davis in 1982. After being rejected for admission, Bakke sued for admission over the school policy setting aside spots for minority students; the US Supreme Court ruled...   (AP Photo/Walt Zeboski, File)

Even before the Supreme Court issued its ruling Friday against affirmative action policies being used to decide who gets into college, schools were looking for other ways to build in diversity. Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which were involved in the case, immediately said they remain committed to achieving the goal, per Politico, while complying with the court's ruling. As the New York Times reports, they might look to a medical school in California, where affirmative action was prohibited by voters in 1996, that's come at the issue from a different angle. The University of California-Davis school uses a formula it calls the socioeconomic disadvantage scale, or SED.

Applicants receive a score from zero to 99 based on their circumstances, including their family's income and the education level of their parents. That score is added to grades, essays, interviews, recommendations, and test scores for the portfolio used to decide who receives an invitation to enroll. It's a concept President Biden endorsed last week, calling adversity scores a "new standard" for achieving diversity. "Mostly rich kids get to go to medical school," said Dr. Mark Henderson, the Davis school's admissions boss. That's the problem he was addressing when he developed the tool. Data from the American Association of Medical Colleges show that more than half of medical students nationally are from families in the top 20% of income. Just 4% come from the lowest 20% in income.

"That's a staggering economic gap between medical students and the general public," said Henderson. That's contributed to the racial gap: 6% of practicing doctors in the US are Black, in a population in which 13.6% of Americans identify as Black. The result of the medical school's efforts: Its newest class is 14% Black and 30% Hispanic, beyond national averages of 10% and 12%. And 84% of the Davis class is from a disadvantaged background. The word is out, Henderson said: About 20 schools recently have asked about his formula. However, the Times notes that schools adopting such adversity scales might face legal fights from conservative groups who see them as "stand-ins for race." (More affirmative action stories.)

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