NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 2, 2005

College admissions preferences do not offer even the practical benefits claimed by their supporters. Because preferences do not help minority students, policymakers and administrators of all political persuasions should oppose their use, says Marie Gryphon, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

Affirmative action produces no concrete benefits to minority groups, but it does produce several significant harms, says Gryphon:

  • First, a phenomenon called the "ratchet effect" means that preferences at a handful of top schools, including state flagship institutions, can worsen racial disparities in academic preparation at other universities, including those that do not use admissions preferences, by luring away qualified minority students.
  • This effect results in painfully large gaps in academic preparation between minority students and others on campuses around the country.


  • Recent sociological research demonstrates that preferences hurt campus race relationships.
  • Worse, they harm minority student performance by activating fears of confirming negative group stereotypes, lowering grades, and reducing college completion rates among preferred students.
  • Nor do preferences increase the wages of students who attend more selective schools as a result of affirmative action.
  • When equally prepared students are compared, recent research shows that those who attend less selective institutions make just as much money as do their counterparts from more selective schools.

Research shows that skills, not credentials, can narrow socioeconomic gaps between white and minority families. Policymakers should end the harmful practice of racial preferences in college admissions. Instead, they should work to close the critical skills gap by implementing school choice reforms and setting higher academic expectations for students of all backgrounds, says Gryphon.

Source: Marie Gryphon, "The Affirmative Action Myth," Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No. 540, April 6, 2005.

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