The failure of Affirmative Action

From The New York Times:

Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago

By Jeremy Ashkenas, Haeyoun Park and Adam Pierce | August 24, 2017

Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis.

The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans.

More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened.

The Times analysis includes 100 schools ranging from public flagship universities to the Ivy League. For both blacks and Hispanics, the trend extends back to at least 1980, the earliest year that fall enrollment data was available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions, said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and universities.

The courts have ruled that colleges and universities can consider race or ethnicity “as one element in a holistic admissions policy, so it’s something that can be considered, but it’s not a magic bullet,” he said.

Affirmative action increases the numbers of black and Hispanic students at many colleges and universities, but experts say that persistent underrepresentation often stems from equity issues that begin earlier.

Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

“There’s such a distinct disadvantage to begin with,” said David Hawkins, an executive director at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “A cascading set of obstacles all seem to contribute to a diminished representation of minority students in highly selective colleges.”

There’s more at the original, but I spotted a glaring omission: how can the Times responsibly report on college matriculation rates by race without ever mentioning the disparities in high school graduation rates by race? With some very rare exceptions, you cannot go to college if you haven’t been graduated from high school.

From US News & World Report:

Racial Gaps in High School Graduation Rates Are Closing

As the achievement gap narrows, high school students are graduating at an all-time high rate.

By Allie Bidwell, Staff Writer | March 16, 2015, at 12:47 p.m.

U.S. high school students overall are graduating at a rate higher than ever before, and new data from the Department of Education show the same is true for minority students. Nearly every racial and ethnic subgroup has seen a growth in graduation rates that outpaces that of white students – a sign that the achievement gap is incrementally closing.

The graduation rates for black and Hispanic students increased by 3.7 and 4.2 percentage points, respectively, in two years, compared with 2.6 percentage points for white students, the department said Monday. American Indian students, as well as students from low-income backgrounds, those with limited English-language proficiency and students with disabilities saw graduation rates increase at a faster pace than the rate of white students overall, as well as faster than the national average. Only Asian/Pacific Islander students saw slower graduation growth than white students.

The largest gains occurred among American Indian students. In the 2010-11 school year, the group had a graduation rate of 65 percent. By 2012-13, the graduation rate was 69.7 percent – a two-year increase of nearly 5 percentage points.

Although the nation’s overall graduation rate reached an all-time high of 81 percent in the 2012-13 school year, white students still graduate at a much higher rate than most other subgroups, at 86.6 percent. Asian/Pacific Islander students comprised the only subgroup with a higher graduation rate than white students, at 88.7 percent in 2012-13. The national graduation rate increased from 79 percent in 2010-11 to 81 percent in 2012-13.

The gap between Hispanic and white students closed by 1.6 percentage points in two years, from 13 percentage points to 11.4 percentage points. Between black and white students, the gap narrowed by 1.1 percentage points, from 17 percentage points in 2010-11 to 15.9 percentage points in 2012-13. The combined black/Hispanic-white achievement gap closed by nearly 2 percentage points, dropping to 13.4 percentage points in 2012-13.

There’s more at the link, but, simply put, while the graduation rates are narrowing, black and Hispanic students still earn their diplomas at significantly lower rates than do white and Asian students.¹

On June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court, in the infamous case of Grutter v Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), approved race ‘conscious’ admissions policies at a public university, in spite of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee. From Associate Justice Sandra O’Connor’s majority opinion:

We acknowledge that “there are serious problems of justice connected with the idea of preference itself.” Bakke, 438 U.S., at 298 (opinion of Powell, J.). Narrow tailoring, therefore, requires that a race-conscious admissions program not unduly harm members of any racial group. Even remedial race-based governmental action generally “remains subject to continuing oversight to assure that it will work the least harm possible to other innocent persons competing for the benefit.” Id., at 308. To be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program must not “unduly burden individuals who are not members of the favored racial and ethnic groups.” Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547, 630 (1990) (O’Connor, J., dissenting).

We are satisfied that the Law School’s admissions program does not. Because the Law School considers “all pertinent elements of diversity,” it can (and does) select nonminority applicants who have greater potential to enhance student body diversity over underrepresented minority applicants. See Bakke, supra, at 317 (opinion of Powell, J.). As Justice Powell recognized in Bakke, so long as a race-conscious admissions program uses race as a “plus” factor in the context of individualized consideration, a rejected applicant

“will not have been foreclosed from all consideration for that seat simply because he was not the right color or had the wrong surname… . His qualifications would have been weighed fairly and competitively, and he would have no basis to complain of unequal treatment under the Fourteenth Amendment.” 438 U.S., at 318.

We agree that, in the context of its individualized inquiry into the possible diversity contributions of all applicants, the Law School’s race-conscious admissions program does not unduly harm nonminority applicants.

We are mindful, however, that “[a] core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.” Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 432 (1984). Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. This requirement reflects that racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous that they may be employed no more broadly than the interest demands. Enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point. The Law School, too, concedes that all “race-conscious programs must have reasonable durational limits.” Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 32.

In the context of higher education, the durational requirement can be met by sunset provisions in race-conscious admissions policies and periodic reviews to determine whether racial preferences are still necessary to achieve student body diversity. Universities in California, Florida, and Washington State, where racial preferences in admissions are prohibited by state law, are currently engaged in experimenting with a wide variety of alternative approaches. Universities in other States can and should draw on the most promising aspects of these race-neutral alternatives as they develop. Cf. United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 581 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring) (“[T]he States may perform their role as laboratories for experimentation to devise various solutions where the best solution is far from clear”).

The requirement that all race-conscious admissions programs have a termination point “assure[s] all citizens that the deviation from the norm of equal treatment of all racial and ethnic groups is a temporary matter, a measure taken in the service of the goal of equality itself.” Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S., at 510 (plurality opinion); see also Nathanson & Bartnik, The Constitutionality of Preferential Treatment for Minority Applicants to Professional Schools, 58 Chicago Bar Rec. 282, 293 (May—June 1977) (“It would be a sad day indeed, were America to become a quota-ridden society, with each identifiable minority assigned proportional representation in every desirable walk of life. But that is not the rationale for programs of preferential treatment; the acid test of their justification will be their efficacy in eliminating the need for any racial or ethnic preferences at all”).

We take the Law School at its word that it would “like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula” and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable. See Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 34; Bakke, supra, at 317—318 (opinion of Powell, J.) (presuming good faith of university officials in the absence of a showing to the contrary). It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education. Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 43. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.

The Court thereby approved the use of race-conscious admission policies at public universities, but stated that they must have an end date; they cannot be permanent. While I find the notion that the constitutional requirement of equal protection of the laws can simply be set aside as “a temporary matter, a measure taken in the service of the goal of equality itself” wholly repugnant, the Court did set its own “sunset provision,” 25 years from June 23, 2003. That happy date, June 23, 2028, is now just 10 years, 9 months and 29 days away.

The trouble is, what the Court “expect(ed),” that “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today” doesn’t seem very likely to be the case. The Times article makes it clear that, at the top universities, public and private alike,² there remains a significant gap in student achievement based on race and ethnicity. With high school graduation rates narrowing but still substantially apart, there is little chance that the aggregate economic successes of the various racial and ethnic groups in this country will be anywhere close to equal.

One of the worst aspects about the Times news story is that it briefly mentioned, but mostly neglected the real change in freshman matriculation at the top colleges: while it highlighted drops in black and Hispanic admission, white enrollment has dropped far more significantly, while the real group growth has occurred among students of Asian descent.

Black students make up 9 percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans, roughly the same gap as in 1980. (A category for multiracial students, introduced in 2008, has slightly reduced the share of black students.)

At all eight schools, white enrollment declined as Asian enrollment increased. In recent years, the growth of Asian enrollment has slowed at some schools, and some Asian-American students say they are being held to a higher standard.

That’s it, that’s all they said, even while their charts indicated that Asian students made up between 21% and 26% of freshman matriculates at six of the eight Ivy League colleges, and 17% and 18% at the other two. White enrollment declined at the eight Ivies from in the mid 80% range in 1980 to a low of 40% at Columbia to a high of 56% at Dartmouth, well below the white percentage of the population.

I, of course, has no problem at all with the increase in Asian students; if Asian students are earning their places at our top schools, then they are earning their places, and admissions discrimination concerning Asian applicants appears not to be to their advantage, but a negative, as schools have been accused of discriminating against Asians rather than in their favor. If race-conscious admissions prevailed everywhere, I suspect that the percentage of Asian students would be higher, not lower.

The Times reported that “Blacks and Hispanics have gained ground at less selective colleges and universities but not at the highly selective institutions.” OK, fine, that ought to be good news. The trouble is that matriculation rates are less important than graduation rates, and that is where the disparities are far worse. From the Journal on Blacks in Higher Education, March 13, 2017:

The Racial Gap in College Graduation Rates

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education offers data on the racial gap in college graduation rates at different types of educational institutions.

If we look at all four-year educational institutions, we find that 39.5 percent of African Americans who entered these institutions in 2009 seeking a bachelor’s degree earned their degree within six years. For Whites seeking bachelor’s degrees, the graduation rate was 59.4 percent. At private, not-for-profit colleges and universities, the racial gap was even more pronounced. At these four-year institutions, the Black graduate rate was 43.5 percent, more than 26 percentage points below the rate for White students.

For African Americans, there was a significant gender gap in college graduation rates favoring women. The graduation rate for Black women was nearly nine percentage points higher than for Black men.

When we look at data for two-year colleges, we find a much smaller racial gap. The data shows that 24.7 percent of African Americans who enrolled in associate’s degree programs in 2012 earned their degree within three years. For Whites seeking associate’s degrees, the graduation rate was 33.2 percent.

Here, too, there was a significant gender gap among African American students. Some 27.2 percent of Black women who enrolled at a two-year college in 2012 earned their associate’s degree by 2015. For Black men, the graduation rate at two-year colleges was 21.4 percent.

This is an important point: black students had better graduation rates at private non-proprietary colleges than in colleges overall, which tells us that the Ivies and their ilk are providing more help for their students than are the public colleges; the graduation rate for whites was also better at those institutions. That statistic doubtlessly reflects that the Ivies get the most intelligent and talented students, the ones with the greater potential, but it also includes far less prestigious colleges, and these colleges have incentives to help entering students to be graduated.

The meaning of this is clear: we should abandon race-conscious admissions, and concentrate on helping the students who do gain admission to complete their studies, to be graduated. We do not need more black — or any color — students; we need more black graduates.
¹ – There was some poor reporting in this article as well: stating that “Only Asian/Pacific Islander students saw slower graduation growth than white students” is somewhat disingenuous, given that Asian/Pacific Islander students are, and previously were, already being graduated at a higher rate than whites. Already being closer to the top, increases are more difficult to achieve.
² – The Fourteenth Amendment applies only to the government, including state universities; as far as I am concerned, a private college can use any admissions formula it wishes, including outright racial or sex discrimination.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.