There is perhaps no topic that we cover on our college admissions blog that engenders more passionate reactions than Affirmative Action. In our experience, the folks who tend to fill up the Comments section beneath our posts on Affirmative Action are against the consideration of race in the admissions process. In their remarks, they typically bemoan how it’s nearly impossible for white applicants to earn admission these days to America’s highly selective universities, which — of course — is categorically untrue. Yes, in spite of university press releases that tout the percentage of Black / African American, Latinx, Native American, and other under-represented groups in their incoming classes, the vast majority of admits to every highly selective university in America remain white in the year 2020.
The Downside of California’s Affirmative Action Ban
But if our readers are curious what would happen if America’s elite universities ended the practice of Affirmative Action by discontinuing the consideration of race in admissions, look no further than an article in The New York Times by Kevin Carey entitled “A Detailed Look at the Downside of California’s Ban on Affirmative Action.” As Carey writes, “Twenty-four years ago, California was consumed by debate over affirmative action. A charismatic Black businessman named Ward Connerly led support for Proposition 209, a ballot initiative to ban racial preferences in admission to the state’s world-renowned public universities. The measure passed with 55 percent of the vote and inspired similar changes in nearly a dozen other states. This November, with an initiative to repeal Proposition 209 on the ballot, California voters will have the opportunity to change their minds. And a comprehensive study released Friday finds that by nearly every measure, the ban has harmed Black and Hispanic students, decreasing their number in the University of California system while reducing their odds of finishing college, going to graduate school and earning a high salary. At the same time, the policy didn’t appear to greatly benefit the white and Asian-American students who took their place.”
Banning Affirmative Action Exacerbates Inequities
We urge our readers to read the study conducted by Berkeley economist Zachary Bleemer which Carey references in his New York Times piece. As Bleemer writes, “Ending affirmative action caused UC’s 10,000 annual underrepresented minority (URM) freshman applicants to cascade into lower-quality public and private universities…As a result, the average URM UC applicant’s wages declined by five percent annually between ages 24 and 34, almost wholly driven by declines among Hispanic applicants. By the mid-2010s, Prop 209 had caused a cumulative decline in the number of early-career URM Californians earning over $100,000 by at least three percent. Prop 209 also deterred thousands of qualified URM students from applying to any UC campus…Complementary regression discontinuity and institutional value-added analyses suggest that affirmative action’s net wage benefits for URM applicants exceed its (potentially small) net costs for on-the-margin white and Asian applicants. These findings are inconsistent with the university ‘Mismatch Hypothesis’ and provide the first causal evidence that banning affirmative action exacerbates socioeconomic inequities.”
We Don’t Have to Imagine an America Without Affirmative Action
We don’t have to imagine what will happen to a generation of young people who attend American universities at which the practice of Affirmative Action is banned in the admissions process. We don’t have to create a make-believe scenario because the University of California serves as an example to universities throughout our nation. As the study finds, the ban at California’s public universities has hurt underrepresented minorities, exacerbating socioeconomic inequities, and it has been largely non-beneficial to white and Asian American applicants. And yet, here come the counterarguments in the Comments section below. Let’s see if any happen to cite a scientific study.
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