NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 9, 2005

Some supporters of affirmative action argue that eliminating racial preferences would harm highly qualified minority students by discouraging them from applying to elite universities. However, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), highly qualified minority students would not be affected by the end of the program.

The NBER analyzed Texas and California because of their large minority populations and recent termination of affirmative action. In 1995, minority applicants to the University of California at Los Angeles, UC Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University enjoyed higher acceptance rates than whites or Asians despite substantially lower grade point averages and average SAT scores that were more than 100 points lower than for other groups. When preferences ended, there were severe results:

  • In California, admission rates among black freshmen applicants to the elite schools -- Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego -- fell from about 50 percent 1995 to about 23 percent in 1998-2001.
  • Throughout the entire state, acceptance rates fell by about 7 percent for blacks and 4 percent for Hispanics.
  • At Texas A&M University, black admissions fell by an estimated 30 percent and Hispanic admissions fell an estimated 15 percent.

However, highly qualified minority students were relatively unaffected:

  • There was a small dip in the probability of applying to selective schools in both states between 1997 and 1999, but by the end of 1999 the dip ended.
  • High-GPA Hispanic students in California were significantly more likely to apply to the most selective University of California schools after affirmative action was abolished.

Source: Linda Gorman, "Affirmative Action and Highly Qualified Minority Students," NBER Digest, December 2004; based upon: David Card and Alan Krueger, "Would the Elimination of Affirmative Action Affect Highly Qualified Minority Applicants?" National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 10366, March 2004.

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