NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 22, 2008

The long-running debate over affirmative action in college admissions just got more complicated, thanks to a new study that challenges the common assumption that whites are hurt most when colleges take applicants' race and ethnicity into account.

The study, published by the University of California, Los Angeles in the scholarly journal InterActions, suggests that it is mainly Asian-Americans and not whites who are held to a higher standard when top colleges use affirmative action.

Where such institutions have been banned from considering applicants' race, the study finds, enrollment of Asian-Americans has increased while admissions of whites remained flat or, in some cases, declined. The study, an analysis of long-term enrollment trends at several exclusive public universities, found that the Asian-American share of enrollment increased:

  • More than 15 percent at the University of Texas at Austin after a 1996 federal court ruling barred consideration of race in admissions.
  • More than 15 percent at the University of Florida after Gov. Jeb Bush persuaded the state university system's governing board to vote in 2000 to end race- and ethnicity-conscious admissions.
  • More than 20 percent at the University of California, Berkeley; more than 10 percent at the University of California, Los Angeles; and more than 30 percent at the University of California, San Diego, after that state's voters passed a 1996 ballot measure barring the use of affirmative-action preferences by public colleges and other state agencies.

The authors' assessment is in keeping with other research that has suggested that Asian-Americans are regarded as overrepresented on college campuses and therefore held to higher standards to keep their numbers down.  The white applicants covered by this study fared no better in the absence of affirmative action than before.  In fact, the number of white admissions in some cases dropped because of increased competition from Hispanics and from Asian-Americans.

Source: Peter Schmidt, "Asians, not whites, hurt most by race-conscious admissions," USA Today, February 20, 2008.

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