by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Conservative students enter college with higher SAT scores and GPAs than liberal students, but by the fourth year of college have lower GPAs than liberal peers, which may be a consequence of institutional bias, finds a new working paper from the University of Arkansas.
Self-identified conservative students saw the biggest grade dip when studying in the humanities and social sciences, none when studying in professional fields, and an extra grade advantage when studying in hard-science fields. The bias was more pronounced at higher-ranked colleges and universities.
“Notwithstanding the GPA advantages held by conservative students in high school, students who support banning racist/sexist speech, and who endorse dissent as critical to the political process (positions typically associated with liberalism) enjoy a relative advantage over their peers,” the paper finds.
The authors controlled for students’ family income, SAT scores, and demographics, and repeatedly caution that the GPA effect is comparatively small, although statistically significant, and may have explanations other than professor bias. For example, since other social science has found conservatives tend to follow rules better and score lower on spontaneity and creativity, perhaps those characteristics make them a poorer fit for college or humanities programs. …
… [P]erhaps college culture tends to be anti-conservative. The paper notes later that, in the authors’ field experience, students from rich, secular, liberal families adapted better to campus life than did students from conservative, middle-class homes. It suggests that’s because “students from conservative or religious household might face difficulties in the transition to college, losing the structure and community they enjoyed in high school.”
But it also could be that campus cultures can be actively hostile to family, faith, community, and a well-ordered life.