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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Expanding Merit Through Communitarianism: Racial and Ethnic Implications

  • Author(s): Griffin, Jerlena Denise
  • Advisor(s): Stern, David
  • et al.


Expanding Merit Through Communitarianism: Racial and Ethnic Implications

by Jerlena Denise Griffin

Doctor of Philosophy in Education University of California, Berkeley Professor David Stern, Chair

Low-income students and some racial minorities, in particular African Americans, have been chronically under-represented in higher education. In the ongoing debate about affirmative action, conceptions of merit based on test scores and grades have been viewed as conflicting with the goal of more equitable representation. However, some previous researchers have proposed that a broader conception of merit, based on the mission of the higher educational institution, could be more consistent with equity goals. In particular, the public-serving mission of a public university would warrant greater emphasis on community service achievements in selecting among applicants. In the University of California (UC) system, high school community service already is one of the qualifications considered in the comprehensive review of freshman applications.

This study explores the possible implications of giving greater consideration to high school community service in the admission process. Data from UC applications for fall

2013 are used to compare the average amount of time spent in high school volunteer

activities among applicants, admitted students, and enrolled freshman by race/ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics. Among other findings, African American and Asian students reported the highest average hours of community service in high school. Increasing consideration of high school community service would result in admitting slightly larger numbers of students in these groups.

Data on community service from the spring 2014 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey also were used to compare the amount of hours per week spent in community service by students in their freshman year. Among other findings, high school service was a strong predictor of college service, and African American students were the most likely to participate in community service as freshmen. A regression in which high school community service and student characteristics were used to predict hours of community service in college revealed that African American freshmen actually contributed more hours of community service than would have been predicted by their high school service and other characteristics.

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