* Research on Affirmative Action in Academia

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Overview


During the first several decades of the twentieth century, colleges and universities commonly denied admission to minority-group members whose high-school grades and standardized test scores surpassed those of whites who were offered an opportunity to enroll. Thanks to the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, such blatant discrimination became illegal. But since then, the pendulum has swung strongly in the opposite direction. Many colleges have created affirmative action programs designed to boost minority enrollments by granting preferences to blacks and Hispanics in the admissions process.

Defenders of preferences claim that these policies are little more than “tie-breakers,” designed merely to tip the scales in favor of a minority applicant over a white applicant of basically equivalent credentials. There is large body of evidence, however, that preferential policies bear far less resemblance to “tie-breakers” than to the virtual abandonment of standards.

An important study by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), for instance, examined the extent of race preferences in the policies that governed admissions to the medical schools at Michigan State University, SUNY Brooklyn, the University of Washington, and the Medical College of Georgia during the late 1990s. The median undergraduate grade-point-averages (GPAs) of white students admitted to the aforementioned schools during those years was 3.64. The corresponding median for blacks was 3.23, for Hispanics 3.30, and for Asians 3.63. On the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), the median score for whites was 37, for blacks 31, for Hispanics about 34, and for Asians 38. In short, Asian and white students had the highest academic qualifications, followed by Hispanics and blacks, respectively.

The CEO study explains that in order for schools to admit a higher proportion of students from a demographic group that under-performs in comparison to other groups, “admission officers must essentially reach down into the applicant pool and pull up certain students, a practice that results in at least some students with better credentials than [others] being rejected . . . despite their superior qualifications.” The extent of these preferences is nothing short of shocking. In 1996, for instance, black applicants were 19 times likelier than similarly qualified whites to be admitted to Georgia Medical College. That same year, blacks were 23 times likelier than academically equivalent whites to be admitted to SUNY Brooklyn, and a year later blacks were 30 times likelier than comparable whites to be admitted to the University of Washington. In some years at each school, the disproportions were not quite so extreme. But in general, black students were still between 4 and 14 times likelier to be admitted to a given medical school than were their white counterparts. Hispanic students were usually between 3 and 7 times likelier to be admitted than similarly qualified whites. Notably, Asians were consistently less likely to be admitted than were whites of equivalent credentials.

The CEO researchers also calculated – in terms of absolute percentages – the likelihood of admission for black, white, Hispanic, and Asian applicants with the same test scores and grades. Again, the results were startling. For example, consider those students with MCAT scores of 30 and GPAs of 3.25. At the Medical College of Georgia in 1996, black applicants with such credentials had a 51 percent chance of admission. For Hispanics, whites, and Asians, the corresponding figures were 14 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent. At Michigan State College of Human Medicine in 1999, black applicants with the aforementioned credentials had a 43 percent chance of admission. The corresponding numbers for other groups were: 26 percent for Hispanics, 5 percent for whites, and 3 percent for Asians. For similarly qualified applicants to SUNY Brooklyn in 1999, the likelihood of admission was 25 percent for blacks, 13 percent for Hispanics, 3 percent for whites, and 3 percent for Asians. And at the University of Washington in 1997, the numbers were 61 percent for blacks, 20 percent for Hispanics, 5 percent for whites, and 4 percent for Asians.

These numbers raise some serious questions, both ethical and practical. Do we want to create a society that applies different standards to different demographic groups? Is it appropriate to “redress” one set of historical wrongs by replacing it with another? With regard to physicians, who play a vital role in determining how healthy we are as a people, are we willing to exchange some degree of quality for a greater diversity of skin tones? Is it wise to form social policy in compliance with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s assessment of affirmative action’s propriety: “You [white] guys have been practicing discrimination for years. Now it’s our turn”?


Additional Resources

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
By Althea Nagai
September 13, 2011

New Study Documents Heavy Admissions Discrimination at Ohio State and Miami University
By Althea Nagai
February 14, 2011

Racial and Ethnic Preferences at University of Nebraska Law School
By Althea Nagai
October 2008

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Admission at the University of Arizona College of Law
By Althea Nagai
October 2008

Racial and Ethnic Admission Preferences at Arizona State University College of Law
By Althea Nagai
October 1, 2008

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Michigan
By Althea Nagai
October 16, 2006

Racial and Ethnic Admission Preferences at the University of Michigan Law School
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
October 16, 2006

Racial and Ethnic Admission Preferences at the University of Michigan Medical School
By Althea Nagai
October 16, 2006

Affirmative Action at Three Universities
By David J. Armor
November 13, 2004

Racial, Ethnic and Gender Preferences in Admissions to the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
April 2003

Racial and Ethnic Preferences at the Three Virginia Public Law Schools
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
April 25, 2002

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Admissions at Five Public Medical Schools
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
June 2001

Affirmative Action in Michigan Higher Education
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
May 6, 2001

Racial and Ethnic Preferences and Consequences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
March 30, 2001

Pervasive Preferences: Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Undergraduate Admissions Across the Nation
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
March 28, 2001

Preferences in Maryland Higher Education
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
March 6, 2001

Racially Disparate Rates of Admission for Applicants with Similar Grades and Test Scores
By Kinley Larntz
2001

Preferences at the University of Virginia
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
October 22, 1999

Preferences in Virginia Higher Education
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
October 18, 1999

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Washington
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
October 16, 1999

Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at Six North Carolina Public Universities
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
1998

Preferences in North Carolina Higher Education
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
June 1998

Affirmative Action in Colorado Higher Education
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
December 31, 1996

Affirmative Action at UC Berkeley
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
October 9, 1996

Affirmative Action at UC San Diego
By Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai
January 1, 1995

Analytical Resources

The Scandal of the Law Schools
By Stephan Thernstrom
December 1997

Weighing The Benefits and Costs of Racial Preference in College Admissions
By Curtis Crawford
May/June 2000

Racial Preferences: What We Now Know
By Stephan Thernstrom
February 1999

Misshapen Statistics on Racial Quotas
By Thomas Sowell
April 1999

Three Views of the River: Three Reviews of The Shape of the River
By The Center for Equal Opportunity
November 1998

The Consequences of Colorblindness
By Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom
1998

Another Bend in “The Shape of the River”
By Stephen Thernstrom (Washington Post)
December 14, 1998

Lies, Damned Lies, and Blurs
By Thomas Sowell (Forbes)
May 31, 1999

College Preferences by Race, Sex, and Legacy Status
By John Perazzo
July 11, 2003

Race Preferences in Medical Schools
By John Perazzo
July 3, 2002

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