Demographic Dislocation

Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, June 7

What if the Supreme Court had banned affirmative action? What if colleges moved away from the use of affirmative action on their own?

A new 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 study was conducted by Thomas Espenshade, a professor of sociology at Princeton, and Chang Chung, a senior staff member in the university’s Office of Population Research. The study will appear in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly.

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The study found that, without affirmative action, the acceptance rate for African American candidates at elite colleges 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.

Those drops, in turn, could prompt additional losses, the authors warn. “If admitting such small numbers of qualified African-American and Hispanic students reduced applications and the yield from minority candidates in subsequent years, the effect of eliminating affirmative action at elite universities on the racial and ethnic composition of enrolled students would be magnified beyond the results presented here,” the report says.

Drops of that magnitude in admission rates would have serious impacts on those who actually enroll. The percentage of admitted students who are black would fall to 3.3 percent, from 9 percent. For Hispanics, the drop would be to 3.8 percent, from 7.9 percent.

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