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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of Sociology

UC Davis

Compensatory Sponsorship in Higher Education


In this paper, I evaluate the extent to which colleges and universities of varying degrees of selectivity engaged in racial, ethnic and socioeconomic affirmative action for cohorts of students who graduated in 1972, 1982 and 1992. I find that a much wider range of institutions engage in affirmative action for African American students than previous analysts reported, and that a growing number of institutions extend the benefits of affirmative action to Hispanic students. Colleges and universities are less enthusiastic about engaging in affirmative action for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. To understand why postsecondary institutions might prefer students from particular minority groups over otherwise comparable white students, I introduce the concept of compensatory sponsorship (buidling on Turner’s ideal type of sponsored mobility). In a contest system perceived by many to unfairly disdavantage some competititors, college personnel engage in affirmative action both to right a perceived wrong and to preserve the legitimacy of the contest. The beneficiaries of compensatory sponsorship, however, are determined by historical and social forces that constrain how postsecondary institutions recruit, admit and fund potential matriculants.

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