It's possible that may be too bleak an assessment, that things like public school reform, universal pre-K, and better law enforcement could help overcome those problems well before kids apply for college. But it's an issue that has to be contended with.
(6) Are lots of white students getting cheated by affirmative action?
More than any other, this is the question that probably fuels all the acrimony over affirmative action. Fryer and Loury note some 40 percent of whites older than 18 "believe it likely they or someone they know were rejected from a college due to an unqualified black applicant being admitted." That sense of grievance, they argue, is probably overwrought.
Research has shown that only the top 20 percent of colleges actually bother with racial preferences. This makes sense, since those are the schools with high enough standards that they need to make occasional exceptions to them. Assuming that 15 percent of students selected at these schools are black or Hispanic, and absolutely all of them were taken based on their race, that would make affirmative action just 3 percent of all selective college admissions in a year. Chicago's Hickman had a similar estimate. He found affirmative action reduces non-minority enrollment at the top quarter of schools by 4.2 percent a year.
So why do so many white students feel cheated by a relatively small phenomenon? Loury and Fryer use a parking metaphor:
Suppose a single unused parking space in front of a popular restaurant is reserved for disabled drivers. Non-disabled drivers who observe the unused space while trying to park might resent this policy, imagining that it prolongs their parking search. But when parking is tight it is likely that, even if the disabled space were not reserved, it would already have been taken by the time a given driver comes along. When many non-disabled drivers overestimate their chance of getting the unreserved space, the perceived cost of a policy favoring the disabled could be large, despite fact that the policy has a negligible effect on the mean duration of a parking search. So too, it would seem, with racial affirmative action in higher education. [My emphasis]
To some, though, the precise percentage may not matter. One student, two students, or twenty students losing out to a numerically less qualified candidate might be too much. But focusing on them would mean thinking like an ethicist, not an economist.