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Study: Race-blind Admissions Could Constrain Minority College Enrollment

Instituting race-blind admissions policies at all of the nation’s college and universities could “severely limit the level of minority enrollment at top-tier colleges,” according to a recent report. 

Researchers at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University found that a universal ban on affirmative action in college admissions could reduce the number of minorities at the nation’s best colleges and universities by as much as 35 percent.

In a new report, “Diversity and Affirmative Action in Higher Education,” Drs. Holger Sieg and Dennis Epple, both professors of economics at Carnegie Mellon, and Dr. Richard Romano, a professor of economics at the University of Florida, contend that race-based admissions policies increase minority students’ access to high-quality colleges.

The authors also contend that a ban on affirmative action wouldn’t remove the consideration of race, but simply replace it with other ways to help achieve racial parity. “If a ban is enacted, universities will give more aid to students that have characteristics that are correlated with race,” says Sieg.

Instead of race, colleges interested in diversity will give preference to students with high or moderately high incomes who also have low scores on standardized tests. These students, the researchers say, are more likely to be minorities.

The positive effects of affirmative action programs in higher education are clear in the study. In 1976, minority undergraduate students composed just 17 percent of the student population. By 2004, more than 30 percent of undergraduate students were underrepresented minorities, the report notes.

To measure the impact of a potential affirmative action ban in higher education, researchers devised a mathematical model built on admissions and tuition policy data collected from the U.S. Census, Peterson’s survey of colleges and universities, the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report states that when affirmative action is allowed, minority students pay lower tuition, on average, and attend better schools, in some cases, over equally qualified non-minority counterparts. When affirmative action is revoked, minority access to higher education is constrained. The report also states that White students “gain relatively little in terms of well-being” with the elimination of affirmative action programs.

A decline in the number of college-going minority students is likely to have negative effects on a variety of labor market outcomes such as earnings, Sieg says.

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