How affirmative action bans make selective colleges, and the workforce, less diverse

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The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on October 31, 2022 in two lawsuits filed by a group opposing affirmative action on college admissions. Here, Natasha Warikooa sociology professor at Tufts University and author of the recently released “Is Affirmative Action Fair?: The Myth of Equality in College Admission,” shares insights on how the racial and ethnic makeup of student organizations at selective colleges and universities will change if the Supreme Court decides to ban affirmative action.

What’s at stake in the case against positive action?

Currently, many selective colleges consider race when making decisions about which students should be admitted. In several cases since 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that it is constitutional to do so to ensure diversity on campus.

A ruling in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiffs in the case, would require that all colleges — both private and public — no longer consider race when making admissions decisions.

Ever since nine states already have affirmative action bans, it’s easy to know what will happen if affirmative action is banned. University enrollment studies in those states show that enrollment of black, Hispanic, and Native American students will long-term decline.

Not only higher education enrollment will be affected. A ban on affirmative action will eventually lead to fewer degrees for black, Hispanic and Native American students.

One study found that medical school enrollment for underrepresented minorities decreased by an average of 5% in eight states with affirmative action bans. Wages will also be affected: A recent study estimates that among Californian Hispanic young adults who applied to University of California colleges after the state’s ban on affirmative action, earnings were 5% less than for Hispanics who applied before the ban. The evidence suggests that after the ban, applicants attended lower-ranked colleges and were consequently less likely to graduate, lowering their wages as graduates.

What do people regularly do wrong about positive action?

Many assume that affirmative action plays a greater role in admissions decisions than it actually does. Some worry that the policy will lead to colleges admitting students who cannot meet the academic requirements of the colleges they have been admitted to. This one “mismatch theory‘, as it is sometimes called, has turned out to be untrue.

Research shows black students admitted through affirmative action are more likely to continue earning advanced degrees than black students with comparable academic achievement, but whose admission was not aided by affirmative action.

And the 1998 California ban led to: fewer STEM degrees obtained by black and Hispanic students in colleges in California. This was especially true for those with weaker academic preparation – that is, those most negatively affected by ‘mismatch’.

How will things change when affirmative action ends?

Based on what happened in states? where affirmative action has already been banned, there will be sharp declines in the number of black, Hispanic and Native American students at selective colleges, especially those that are the most selective.

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Students who end up in less selective colleges will less likely to graduate. That’s because lower-ranked colleges generally have fewer resources to support student success and as a result tend to have lower graduation rates


Ending affirmative action will make it more difficult to increase the percentage of professionals and leaders from minority backgrounds. This is because, as research has shown, affirmative action has increased the number of black college graduates and, in turn, increased the number of black professionals with advanced degrees.

When such a setback occurs, it comes at a time when many organizations and companies pledge support for racial justice and a increase diversity among their staff and leadership


What’s your book’s main takeaway?

In general, I believe that admissions should be less about who goes to college and more about what students will do once they graduate. I believe this requires less emphasis on individual achievement – and more emphasis on the broader mission of the university. That mission includes preparing people from a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds to make contribute to society. Positive action, I argue, is a tool to do just that.

Positive action bans had ‘devastating impact’ on diversity in medical schools, study finds

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