For decades, some minority students (blacks, Latinos, native Americans) were given preferential treatment in college admissions while other minorities (Asians) were penalized. This posed a legal and cultural dilemma. Stipulating that recruitment must occur “without regard to race, color, or creed” except for certain groups was seemingly in conflict with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids consideration of race.
Yet clearly race was once a factor in admissions and starting with President Truman, who agreed with military leadership and removed racial discrimination in the armed services in 1947, society agreed that parity could only be achieved through race favoritism to eliminate bias of the past, and that culminated in a court decision which led to the federal government mandating race-based college admissions. Hillsdale College, the first school to eliminate race in its admissions policies and the second to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women, became the only college in the U.S. to forgo all Federal money, student loans included, rather than start admitting based on skin color, in defiance of its mission.
Recently, the courts have found what most Americans have long believed; that race-based college admissions are no longer needed and are instead discriminatory. Most Americans recognize that while race remains a significant factor in society, it does not prevent anyone from getting into college this century - unless the school is forced to obey legacy rules when racism in admissions was endemic, which happened in a Supreme Court case that was decided in 2013, where a white woman was denied admission to the University of Texas. Because it is now legally tenuous, there is a difference in how often race is invoked in admissions.
The authors of a new paper find a significant decline nationally in the level of affirmative action used by selective public colleges from 1992 to 2004. This decline is attributable to institutions in the eight states affected by statewide affirmative action bans or Circuit Court rulings during the period (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Washington).
While selective public institutions in the eight states, which the authors label "post affirmative action states," ceased giving preferences to minority applicants in their admissions decisions, selective public institutions in other states continued to do so.
"There's been a lot of debate about whether or not states are complying with the law," said University of Washington researcher Grant H. Blume, co-author with Mark C. Long. "Our research shows that they are."
Blume and Long define affirmative action as the higher probability of admission for an underrepresented minority (black, Hispanic, or Native American) student compared with a similar non-qualifying minority (Asian) or a non-minority (Caucasian) student at the same institution, though they do mistakenly lump Asians in as a non-minority, despite the fact that they are only around 5 percent of the American population. Using their selective definition of non-minority, they found substantial and significant preference being given to minority students in 1992 at highly selective institutions in all states, but by 2004 there were dramatic declines in preference given to
black, Hispanic, or Native American
minority students in the eight affected states.
Outside of the eight post-affirmative action states, at selective public institutions (i.e., colleges and universities where an enrolled first-year student has a median SAT score of 1,100 or higher) a minority applicant was 19 percentage points more likely to be admitted than a comparable non-minority applicant in 1992, and this advantage remained at 18 percentage points in 2004.
The researchers also found spillover effects for students living in states bordering the eight affected states, particularly in Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho. Because these neighboring states lack highly selective institutions, students who apply to selective institutions in nearby California and Washington were affected by the decline in affirmative action in those two states.
"These spillover effects are important to consider, especially in light of the growing number of states that have more recently enacted statewide bans (including Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, and Oklahoma) as these bans will likewise have regional implications for college applicants," said Long.
To determine the magnitude of changes in affirmative action in states affected court rulings, Blume and Long examined nationally representative data on admissions decisions from 1994 and 2004. In Texas, the 1997 Hopwood v. Texas ruling effectively banned affirmative action in college admissions; voter referendums in California in 1996 and in Washington in 1998 and administrative decisions in Florida in 1999 had the same result. The Hopwood and 2001 Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia rulings against affirmative action applied to public colleges in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.