The Possible Intersection Between the Elimination of the GRE’s and Interest Convergence - Higher Education
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The Possible Intersection Between the Elimination of the GRE’s and Interest Convergence

by Robert T. Palmer, Antonio L. Ellis and Erick West

Erick West

The 2019 status report on race and ethnicity in higher education by the American Council on Education indicated while college faculty and administrators remain majority White, the student bodies of higher education institutions are more diverse than ever before.  This is not surprising, given that the U. S. Census Bureau have long predicted the changing racial demography of this country. Seemingly, as this country’s natural birth rates for Whites continues to decline, and the college population becomes more Black and Brown, higher education seems to be responding to this demographic shift. For example, some colleges are aggressively recruiting out of state students to make up for the declining college-going population in their states, and at the graduate level, some academic programs are eliminating a key barrier that has long stymied the access of minoritized students- the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Dr. Robert T. Palmer

The purpose of the GRE is to predict how well students are going to do during their first year of graduate school. Nevertheless, despite substantial evidence that the GRE is culturally biased against minoritized students and research studies that have questioned the predictive validity of this assessment, for years, many graduate programs have required that students submit the GRE as part of their application packet. However, recently, more graduate programs are opting for students to not take this assessment as part of their application profile. While there may be more that have not been publicized, graduate programs not requiring students to submit the GRE includes 14 programs at Princeton University; English at Cornell University and Harvard University; philosophy at University of Pennsylvania; and history at University of Michigan.

Granted, while graduate programs eliminating the GRE seems to be concentrated primarily in the humanities at a hand full of resourced endowed institutions, it begs the question why now. To be clear, we do not take issue with the actions of these programs to eliminate reliance on the GRE as part of students’ application packages. In fact, we are quite exuberant of what seems to be an increasing trend among colleges and universities because of the implications this may have on access to graduate education, particularly at resourced rich colleges and universities for underrepresented populations. However, this phenomenon does call into question of interest convergence. Coined by the legal scholar, Derrick Bell, interest convergence, a tenet of critical race theory, indicates that often, when decisions are made by the hegemonic culture to uplift marginalized communities, they are done so with ultimate intent of benefitting the dominant culture. In this sense, it does seem interesting that as the college-going population become more racially and ethnically diverse, which will shape the application pool for graduate education, some graduate programs are now removing a salient obstacle that has long stood in the way of access for many minoritized students.    

In light of that fact that issues of race and racism are deeply rooted in U.S. society, it is possible for race and racism to be attached to the policies, practices, procedures, and institutionalized systems of higher education.  Interest convergence maybe useful for understanding the various ways ivory tower institutions benefit from eliminating the GRE, while concurrently accepting more minoritized students, with a particular focus on Black  students. Not requiring students to take the GRE could further serve as a tool to illuminate and help make sense of the salience of race and racism in higher education policies and practices. Through the lens of interest convergence, we contend that those who are in power are sometimes supportive of altering traditional graduate school admission requirements that do not oppress and discriminate against minoritized students,  as long as those changes do not disrupt or require them to sacrifice their own privileges.

Dr. Antonio L. Ellis

Critical Race Theorist, Gerardo R. López noted, “whites will tolerate and advance the interests of people of color only when they promote the self-interests of whites.” Embedded within the interest convergence theory are matters of loss and gain, such as the decision not to require GRE scores for admission into graduate programs. In this regard, it could be argue that the dominant group has made the decision to discontinue the the GRE as the premier standardized assessment for their potential financial interests.

It bares repeating that we applaud the decision of graduate programs to remove the GRE’s from the graduate application process. The reliance on this standardized assessment has long served as a systemic barrier toward the diversification of graduate programs, particularly at resourced endowed colleges and universities. Thus, while we hope that many more graduate programs will join the ranks and eliminate the GRE’s from their admissions criteria, we hope that this decision would be driven out of concerns for equity, not because it may work to benefit colleges and universities, specifically PWIs. Unfortunately, from our vantage point, this could potentially be the case.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer is chair and associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University; Dr. Antonio Ellis is an adjunct professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University; Erick West is a Ph.D. student in Higher Education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University.

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