Education Is Key to Reducing Racial Inequality

John Dobie Research Associates

Vol. 21, No. 1, 1999 pp. 20-21

A national survey of racial attitudes conducted by John Doble Research Associates for the Southern Regional Council (see Southern Changes, Spring 1997 and Spring and Winter 1998) found that most Americans see education as crucial to overcoming racial inequality. The research included four focus groups of white Southerners and a national telephone survey of 1216 randomly selected adults. Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago further analyzed the data. The research was supported by a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Americans rate "improving schools and education" as a top priority over any other issue. Fifty-nine percent said education was a "top priority" and another 28 percent said it was an "above average" priority (a total of 87 percent showing strong support for education). Seventy-nine percent of blacks and 56 percent of whites said education was a "top priority" (the highest for both groups). This top ranking on the SRC survey parallels a steady climb by education on the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (GSS) from 6th and 5th place rankings in the 1970s.

People surveyed were asked to consider a variety of specific programs to reduce inequality in education. Even in the face of difficult trade-offs, large majorities, often more than seven out of ten, said they favored a host of specific educational remedies:

  • Providing more scholarship aid to black (75 percent) and low-income (88 percent) college students;
  • Providing tax breaks to low-income families for college tuition (84 percent);
  • Expanding early education programs such as Head Start (82 percent);
  • Equalizing per-pupil spending across public school district lines (88 percent); and
  • Reserving college openings for black students if not doing so would mean black students would be badly underrepresented on campus (67 percent).

Support is evident for improving the educational opportunities at all levels for black students, from the 82 percent who support Head Start to the 75 percent who favor "providing more financial aid for black college students who maintain good grades."

College admissions policies were given particular attention in the study, which found that support for college admissions policies to aid black students gains considerably more ground when the implications of abandoning affirmative action are considered. While only 45 percent favored the idea of reserving college openings for black students, many changed their minds and gave the proposal majority support (67 percent), if not doing so would mean black students will be badly underrepresented on campus. The 52 percent who opposed reserving openings for black students in the questions mentioning discrimination were asked if they would "still feel that way if it meant that black students who are likely to do well in college would be badly under-represented among students." About 44 percent said "no" which means that after bringing up this consequence only 23 percent were still opposed to assisting black students in getting into college even if it led to black students being under-represented. Respondents found combating discrimination and maintaining diversity about equally compelling as arguments for reserving college openings for black students.