How Schools Try To Increase Minority Enrollment Without Affirmative Action

California schools spend millions trying to keep admission rates of black and Hispanic students up.

Written by Joanna Button

The story: In 1996, California banned affirmative action (the consideration of race in school admissions) at public colleges and universities, one of nine states to have done so. After the ban took effect, admission rates of black and Hispanic students in prestigious schools dropped; in the state’s top two schools, UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, they were cut in half.

Scrambling for diversity: After the ban, California schools began considering factors like socioeconomic status in admissions and spent $500 million on scholarships and programs to increase diversity rates. Despite their attempts, black and Hispanic students are still underrepresented in many top schools. In U.C. Berkeley’s 2022 freshman class, only 3.6 percent of students were black and 52 percent were Asian; California’s population is 6.5 percent black and 16 percent Asian.

Discrimination: Comparisons between schools with and without affirmative action highlight the discriminatory effects of such policies. Harvard is less likely to admit Asian students in the 10th academic decile (top 10 percent of students) than African American students in the fourth decile. In every academic decile, African American and Hispanic students are much more likely to be admitted into Harvard than white and Asian students.

Public opinion: Even in November 2020, following the Black Lives Matter protests that summer, 57 percent of Californians voted to uphold the state’s ban on affirmative action. A 2022 poll showed that most Democrats and around seven in 10 Americans overall oppose schools considering race in admissions. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action in public colleges, legal experts predict schools will instead find loopholes and discretely continue admitting students based on race.

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