Selective colleges lose diversity with affirmative action ban, study finds


A ban on race-conscious admissions practices in selective colleges would threaten the racial and ethnic diversity of their student bodies, according to a new analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW).

The new report comes ahead of the Supreme Court’s high-stakes decision on discrimination cases brought against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, whose affirmative action policies are accused of hurting Asian and Asian American applicants. A ruling in favor of a ban is expected by the end of June.

CEW researchers analyzed six different admissions models and their possible impact on racial and socioeconomic diversity across selective colleges.

Of these models, two specifically consider class-conscious admissions as alternatives to race-conscious admissions.


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Class-conscious admissions are often proposed as alternatives because students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds tend to be underrepresented at selective colleges across nearly all racial groups, the researchers said. However, they found that such admissions practices can only “partially claw back the levels of diversity” if affirmative action is banned.

The researchers specifically found that white, Asian and Asian American students are “much more likely” to come from upper and upper middle-class families than African American and Hispanic students.

Additionally, they pointed out that class-conscious admissions would decrease the number of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students — groups that are typically lumped together with Asian Americans — as well as American Indian or Alaska Native students.

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The analysis also revealed that class-conscious admissions are “extremely unlikely” to compose student bodies that match the demographic diversity of the high school class. Ultimately, maintaining or exceeding current representation levels in the event of a ban on affirmative action would require a complete overhaul in admissions practices, including changing evaluation criteria and identifying those who may actually be considered for admission.

CEW Director and report lead author Anthony P. Carnevale said in a statement:

Our models make one thing very clear: the most effective way of increasing socioeconomic diversity at selective colleges is to consider race in the admissions process, not to ignore it. There’s a prevailing idea that race-conscious admissions practices only privilege the richest members of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, but that does not hold up under scrutiny.

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Meanwhile, CEW research professor and report co-author Zack Mabel said there is “no good substitute” for the joint consideration of both race and class when equalizing educational opportunity.

“Without race-conscious admissions, the role selective colleges play in creating equal opportunity in our society is likely to diminish,” he said.

The report also debunked claims that “gaps in college preparedness” lead to poor completion rates.

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On the contrary, the models showed that students from underrepresented groups would get a “performance boost” and perform similarly to counterparts from more privileged backgrounds.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell, report co-author, associate director of editorial policy, and senior editor/writer, noted:

Opponents of race- and class-conscious admissions have raised the concern that students with lower test scores and GPAs suffer from academic ‘mismatch’ at more prestigious schools. But the evidence suggests that students who gain access to more selective four-year institutions benefit — not suffer — in terms of higher graduation rates and higher post-college earnings.

The CEW report, titled “Race-Conscious Affirmative Action: What’s Next,” can be accessed here.