What Happens When You Get Rid of Affirmative Action?

A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, Patrick Coate, and V. Joseph Hotz looks at the effects of California’s Proposition 209 on university matching:

Proposition 209 banned using racial preferences in admissions at California’s public colleges. We analyze unique data for all applicants and enrollees within the University of California (UC) system before and after Prop 209. After Prop 209, graduation rates of minorities increased by 4.4%. We characterize conditions required for better matching of students to campuses to account for this increase. We find that Prop 209 did improve matching and this improvement was important for the graduation gains experienced by less-prepared students. At the same time, better matching only explains about 20% of the overall graduation rate increase. Changes after Prop 209 in the selectivity of enrolled students explains 34-50% of the increase. Finally, it appears UC campuses responded to Prop 209 by doing more to help retain and graduate its students, which explains between 30-46% of the post-Prop 209 improvement in the graduation rate of minorities.

One caveat: the study doesn’t address outcomes for students who didn’t attend University of California schools as a result of the change.


Eric M. Jones

The concept of "minority" or "mixed-ethnicity" or "non-white" will become harder to define, especially when there is some benefit from being so-defined. The key reason for affirmative action is that many believe that a better society will result. Alternatively one could simply grease the skids for young people who show intelligence and talent and not consider ethnicity at all. Doing both is not a mistake either.

ps: There are many ethnicities and skin colors. Even so, many "blacks" are of many different ethnicities...Papuan and Austronesian for example. But there is only one race...human.

George

Papuan and Austronesians are not black Africans; they are Polynesian. They are more genetically related to Europeans than blacks I believe.

Chad

It's nice to finally see a study take a hypothesis that is capable of providing conclusions that dispute the value of affirmative action.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race"

Malcolm

This completely ignores the purpose of Affirmative Action, which is NOT to level the playing field. The name says it all, Affirmative Action is about helping disadvantage minorities who are disproportionately in poor neighborhoods and under-performing schools gain access to a college education in order to aggressively reverse historical oppression.

Students with lower scores will naturally have a higher drop-out rate, so simply refusing them admission to the UC system will increase the graduation rate while possibly reducing the overall number of minority graduates. Which hardly proves that Affirmative Action is ineffective at meeting it's goals. You can argue that Affirmative Action is discriminatory, it is. But the argument lies in whether that discrimination is justified for a wider social purpose.

My opinion is that the program needs reform rather than elimination. There should be family income caps on eligibility to target the students based on disadvantaged status rather than simply ethnicity. In an ideal world equality of opportunity in the education system would eliminate the need for such programs entirely, but we're not there yet.

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JAM

"...Affirmative Action is about helping disadvantage minorities who are disproportionately in poor neighborhoods and under-performing schools..."

It seems that you could accomplish a very similar effect by simply focusing on helping those who are disadvantaged regardless of minority status. If a minority is disproportionately disadvantaged, then they will be disproportionately benefited by a program that is colorblind. Further, you would also avoid the moral dilemma of ignoring others who are disadvantaged but are not the right color to receive your help.

Enter your name...

That's what Malcom recommended: "My opinion is that the program needs reform rather than elimination. There should be family income caps on eligibility to target the students based on disadvantaged status rather than simply ethnicity. "

Perhaps you didn't read the whole post?

Derek P

What about the number of minorities enrolled in CA universities? Has it increased or decreased?
Without this info, the analysis incomplete - not only is it incomplete, it has barely begun.

Malcolm

Minority enrollment in the UC system is down since Prop 209, significantly in some cases.

See the difference in the graph in this article:
http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/despite-diversity-efforts-uc-minority-enrollment-down-prop-209-15031

Joe Dokes

The reality of Prop 209 is that while it decreased enrollment of Black and Hispanic students at the most competitive UC schools like UCLA, UC Berkely, and UCSD it lead to an overall increase of minorities system wide. Thus, enrollment increased at universities like UCR.

Pat

If affirmative action is to be utilized with college enrollment, perhaps a better option is to base it on whether or not an applicant's parents graduated college. Students with college educated parents are more likely to attend college, so perhaps utilize AA for those whose parents didn't.

Likewise, if there is a group with a historical under-representation, this method naturally migrates to students in that group (and others) and also allows for a consistent focus as racial/ethnic demographics change and mix.

Of course, look for an increase in students who claim their parent(s) didn't graduate, for bureaucracies to struggle with defining "parents," and for college educated parent(s) to feel their children are being penalized. These all point to common issues of AA, but I still think it would be a better method than simply basing it on race.

Enter your name...

Another approach is to make it based on income. If 10% of the high school graduates qualify for a full Pell grant, then schools should aim for 10% of their students qualifying for a full Pell grant. Ideally, you'd back that up not just with an offer of admission, but also with a scholarship that covers dorm costs or other non-tuition expenses.