Here’s an interesting twist on the higher ed “diversity” debate that’s largely free of the racial baggage of affirmative action: WaPo reports that the University of Virginia may be discriminating against residents of Northern Virginia in admissions in order to achieve geographical diversity.* Without this measure, residents of the affluent DC Metro area, notably Arlington and Fairfax Counties, would be even more overrepresented in the state’s flagship institution. Other states apparently do something similar.

This strikes me as a horribly bad idea, for precisely the reasons that I oppose race-based quotas. It also seems obviously unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, although there are certainly court rulings going in the other direction.

Any thoughts?

*Note: University officials deny this but the claims strike me as dubious because they compare apples and oranges in the story. Obviously, everyone in a highly competitive high school can’t be the valedictorian. Indeed, this insight is what states like Texas and Florida are using in a non-racial means to get around affirmative action bans: they simply admit students from the upper echelons of even the worst schools to their flagship schools, thus making their admission seem like “merit.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Norbizness says:

    I guess some things are equal protection claims, and some aren’t. I don’t believe that any of the following classes of people who are penalized have a 14th Amendment claim: (1) people who do not inhabit Michigan’s “Upper Peninsula”; (2) non-veterans;(3) out-of-state student at public universities; (4) non-legacies.

  2. joy says:

    It’s a state university, it’s purpose is to serve the students of the whole state*. The problem with picking kids with great gpas is that some high schools use weighed systems, so a 4.0 at one school may mean valedictorian while at others it may just mean top 15% because of AP classes and such. Same goes for extracurriculars, some schools have better programs.

    You have to figure out some way of equalizing the playing field. Especially when schools are mostly funded by, say, local tax dollars. Why penalize a kid because they live in a rural Virginia and the tax base isn’t as high as it is around the DC area?

    As much as I hate to say it, if you’re going to have localized control of public schools, you have to have some sort of built in leeway for the vagaries of local control.

    *Yes, I benefited from such a admissions strategy.

  3. jen says:

    In addition, the school districts in Northern Virginia are typically better than the rest of the state – in a class of 500, easily the top 100 will all have 4.0 GPA, straight As, and superb extracurricular activities. I know that in my class alone (of 520) there were 40 that went to Va Tech, 40+ that went to UVa, 25-30 to William & Mary and that’s just the top in-state schools. We had about a dozen go to the military academies, 15-20 to the Ivys, etc. I think we had maybe 8 go to Duke. Just about all of the best colleges were represented by my class. And that was just one of the smaller high schools in NoVa. I have no problem with The University limiting the number of NoVa students they admit, it’s more highly populated region of the state as well.