The Equality of Opportunity

May 1, 2008

Program Initiative on Selective Higher Education
Study Tour, Report, and Conferences

In 2007, the French-American Foundation’s Equality of Opportunity program developed a major initiative focusing on education.  This project stemmed from a concern that applies to the educational systems in both countries:  the under-representation of students from racial-ethnic minorities or recent immigrant backgrounds in higher education institutions, particularly the most selective schools, called grandes écoles in France.

The French-American Foundation conducted a study of American “color-blind” admissions procedures, called “percentage plans,” and such plans’ potential relevance for France. This project entailed a study tour to Texas and California, the publication of a report for policymakers and education stakeholders in France, and a series of conferences in Paris. This brief summarizes these initiatives.

Read the Program FR


 France and the United States face a common challenge in the educational sector: the necessary democratization in access to selective higher education. To confront this issue, both countries have put in place affirmative action strategies in order to promote equal opportunity and combat various forms of educational segregation, whether social, ethnic or territorial. Even if these strategies have been historically very distinct in nature, some present commonalities nonetheless, namely in that they privilege social and geographic criteria in the drafting of public policies.

At a time when key actors in France’s educational sector were discussing initiatives to democratize access to selective higher education for the nation’s student body, the French-American Foundation conducted a study on the percentage plans put in place at the University of Texas and the University of California. The percentage plans were adopted as part of each university’s admissions process following the suppression of previously-instated affirmative action policies, which occurred in several US states in the mid 1990s. The percentage plans admitted students on both merit-based and geographical criteria, without formally taking into consideration the ethnic or racial origins of the applicants – universities simply admitted all high school seniors within the state who placed within a top percentage of their respective school.

The object of this report by the French-American Foundation is to examine the lessons that can be learned from these policies in the French context.

Read the report FR