Panel: Efficacy of College Affirmative Action and Alternative Policies
(Social Equity)

Friday, November 7, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
San Juan (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Mark Long, University of Washington
Panel Chairs:  Dylan Conger, George Washington University
Discussants:  Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis and Stella Flores, Vanderbilt University

Simulation Models of the Effects of Race- and Socioeconomic-Based Affirmative Action Policies
Sean F. Reardon1, Rachel Baker1, Matt Kasman1, Daniel Klasik2 and Joe Townsend1, (1)Stanford University, (2)University of Maryland

Affirmative Action and University Fit: Evidence from Proposition 209
Peter Arcidiacono1,2, Esteban M. Aucejo3, Patrick Coate4 and V. Joseph Hotz1,2,5, (1)Duke University, (2)The National Bureau of Economic Research, (3)London School of Economics, (4)University of Michigan, (5)Institute for the Study of Labor

Affirmative Action in college admissions has always been controversial. Its efficacy has been questioned by scholars and its legality has been under constant challenge for over 40 years. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued their ruling in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case and clarified when and how it is legally permissible for universities to use an applicant’s race-ethnicity in its admissions decisions. The Court’s decision reaffirmed the requirement that universities must first prove that “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity” prior to using race-based affirmative action. One alternative that universities have utilized is to give weight to other applicant characteristics that are correlated with race (e.g., socioeconomic status). The first two papers in this panel evaluate the efficacy of such alternatives. The first paper shows that race-based affirmative action is consistently more effective than SES-based affirmative action at producing racial diversity in selective colleges. Socioeconomic-based affirmative action results in only modest gains in racial diversity. Unless SES-based affirmative action policies use a very high, probably untenable, weighting for lower-resource students, these policies are unlikely to result in the same racial composition in colleges as under current race-based affirmative action policies. Additionally, this paper finds that socioeconomic affirmative action results in considerable economic diversity in selective colleges, while race-based affirmative action alone yields relatively little socioeconomic diversity. The second paper simulates what would happen if universities fully replaced traditional “race-based” affirmative action with “proxy-based” affirmative action (i.e., gave weight to the student’s predicted likelihood of being an underrepresented minority student in their admissions decision, rather than using the student’s actual minority status). This paper shows that doing so would cause a modest reduction in the academic quality of the admitted students and would be inefficient as it would lead to the admittance of many lower “quality” non-minority applicants. The simulation shows that the university would need to place over four times as much weight on the proxy indicator of minority status than they previously placed on the student’s actual minority status to generate the same number of admitted minority students. The third paper in this panel evaluates the efficacy of race-based affirmative action admission systems. The authors show that after Proposition 209 banned the use of racial preferences in admissions at public colleges in California, graduation rates increased by 4.4% at University of California campuses. They present evidence that certain institutions are better at graduating more-prepared students while other institutions are better at graduating less-prepared students and that these matching effects are particularly important for the bottom tail of the qualification distribution. They find that Proposition 209 led to a more efficient sorting of minority students, explaining 18% of the graduation rate increase. Further, they show that universities appear to have responded to Proposition 209 by investing more in their students, explaining between 23-64% of the graduation rate increase. We believe that this panel will be of high interest to scholars and policymakers interested in social equity and educational attainment.
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