Every March, college students from around the country receive either a thick or a thin envelope. For many of them, this will be the biggest event in their lifetimes. It will be a source of pride for some; envy and disappointment for others.
As Americans, we’d like to believe our meritocratic sensibilities do a great job allocating talent, but alas, the truth is that at many colleges throughout America race matters more than brains.
Proponents of affirmative action, though, present a false picture when they suggest that they’d be fine with wealthy, white kids being denied admissions in favor of lesser qualified (and often just as wealthy) blacks and Hispanics. In actuality, the people who most often lose their spots at elite colleges in higher education are Asians and Asian-Americans. [The adverse impact of affirmative action against poor whites remains a source of contention and research.]
But what would a world without affirmative action look like? Putting aside your view of whether or not should exist let’s examine how it actually works by examining such a world. In 2005, The Chronicle of Higher Education cited a paper that looked at just that question.
A  study by two Princeton University researchers uses admissions data from elite colleges to portray what would happen in such a world without affirmative action. In short, black and Latino enrollment would tank, while white enrollments would hardly be affected. The big winners would be Asian applicants, who appear to face “disaffirmative action” right now. They would pick up about four out of five spots lost by black and Latino applicants.
. . .
The research looked at admissions decisions at elite colleges and found that without affirmative action, the acceptance rate for African American candidates would be likely to fall by nearly two-thirds, from 33.7 percent to 12.2 percent, while the acceptance rate for Hispanic applicants probably would be cut in half, from 26.8 percent to 12.9 percent.
While white admit rates would stay steady, Asian students would be big winners under such a system. Their admission rate in a race-neutral system would go to 23.4 percent, from 17.6 percent. And their share of a class of admitted students would rise to 31.5 percent, from 23.7 percent.
But what about blacks at selective colleges? Who are they? Again, The Chronicle of Higher Education,
In 2007, a team of researchers published a study in The American Journal of Education finding that while only about 13 percent of black people aged 18 or 19 in the United States are first- or second-generation immigrants, they made up 27 percent of black students at the selective colleges studied.
. . .
A 2008 study found “that among high school graduates, 75.1 percent of immigrant blacks enrolled in college, a slightly higher percentage than that of whites (72.5 percent) and substantially larger than for native blacks (60.2 percent).”
Basically, the black person sitting next to you is likely the child of black immigrants, rather than the descendant of slaves. But why might that be? Well, according to that same article, “Immigrant black students are more likely than other black students to grow up in two-parent families and to attend private schools — both characteristics that, across all sorts of groups, tend to indicate a greater likelihood of attending a selective college.”
Left unanswered, of course, is whether or not affirmative action has actually achieved the results it was intended to achieve. To answer that question, let’s delve into some empirical analysis: Has affirmative action produced more black attorneys? In fact, the answer is that it has produced less, thanks to the mismatch effect. Heather Mac Donald discusses the research of UCLA professor, researcher, and Democrat, Richard Sander who has found the following things.
Almost all black students are admitted to law school with drastically lower college and LSAT grades than those of white and Asian students. After their first year of legal education, 51 percent of blacks are in the bottom tenth of their class; two-thirds are in the bottom fifth. Blacks are four times as likely as whites to fail the bar exam on their first try. Sander has drawn two conclusions from these data, first published in 2004: first, that blacks’ low qualifications entering law school predict their lagging performance in school and on the bar exam; second, that there would be more black lawyers if schools stopped extending preferences to black students—because these students would learn more in schools that matched their capabilities.
“Four times more likely as whites to fail the bar on their first try”? Yikes! No wonder law school deans felt so threatened and paid a visit to the California state bar in the hopes that it would deny Sander his data.
Sander convinced the U.C. system to share its data on incoming undergraduate students and their academic performance. His research confirmed that there were lingering racial preferences at the universities, despite Proposition 209, that outlawed them.
Now you could argue that we need socioeconomic diversity, but why should we have a mismatch there, too? Parents and students could deliberately spend themselves into poverty so as to qualify for admission. With many colleges guaranteeing need blind admission, the net effect would be increased strains on endowments and little to no cost controlling on academic bureaucrats. I suspect that college, even a ride at one of the best colleges, could become seen as a right.
At Harvard Business School, students do just that and pour their money into high-end cars. Why? Financial aid doesn’t assess students’ automotive purchases, only property and savings. Effectively, HBS buys you a BMW. [For those considering HBS, you’re welcome for the tip.]
I have a lot more data, information, and books on race and colleges, but limited space to write more. Conservatives and proponents of the meritocracy would do well to educate themselves on the empirical evidence that continues to make colleges across America the segregationist’s dream come true. In hopes of furthering that education, allow me to suggest a short reading list. I have much more, if you want it.
- The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden, (a WSJ columnist), especially the chapter, “The New Jews,” on Asian-Americans.
- The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, Jerome Karabel. An interesting point here is that the reason we have admissions interviews was to keep out the Jews, who were called “greasy grinds.” The Dean of Admissions at MIT referred to Asian-Americans as “texture-less grinds.” He prefers students of “soul” to those Asian kids.
- Affirmative Action Around the World: An Empirical Study by Thomas Sowell that should be essential reading for any IR/public policy type.
Do you agree that it’s time to change the law? Let your elected lawmaker know. A proposed ballot initiative to strike down this kind of racism has become stillborn in Utah, despite support.. Americans would do well to take up the cause and finally end a process more fit for the 19th century than the 21st.