The court’s decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, and an effort last month in California to reinstate the consideration of race in admissions to its public universities, has again brought the issue into the national spotlight. Advocates of affirmative action have emphasized the oft-repeated mantra that when racial preferences aren’t used in admissions, underrepresented minorities (Latinos and blacks in particular) have a tougher time getting into, enrolling in, and succeeding at competitive institutions of higher learning.
Data from California, where voters banned the consideration of race in public college admissions in 1996, tell a very different story. In short, the percentage of underrepresented minorities admitted to and enrolled at all University of California campuses has actually increased since affirmative action was outlawed in the late 1990s.
Despite that, the president and chancellors of the University of California argued as amici curiae in Schuette that banning racial preferences in admissions led to a less diverse student body — and, therefore, such preferences ought to be permissible (and, in the case of California schools, reinstated).
Such claims not only ignore the data on admissions and enrollments at these campuses. They also raise the question of why institutions such as UC remain so fixated on restoring the use of racial preferences in admissions when the evidence suggests they aren’t needed to achieve the diversity they seek.
So what do the data tell us?
First, the share of admitted students to all University of California campuses who are underrepresented minorities has gone up, not down, since the end of affirmative action. The percentage of admitted students who self-identify as Latino or Chicano more than doubled, from 10.5 percent in 1997 to 22.2 percent in 2013. (The share of black students also increased, but by a much smaller amount.)
Second, the end of affirmative action has not dampened interest in UC among underrepresented minorities. In fact, they make up more of the overall applicant pool at UC today than in 1997. In 2013, almost one in three applicants to UC self-identified as Chicano or Latino — more than double the percentage from 1997. While acceptance rates for Latinos have fallen more than for whites, that’s not surprising, because the number of Latino applicants has increased much more than the number of white applicants.