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Winter 01
Making Diversity News
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Empirical Study Finds Socio-economic Status Not a Likely Substitute for Race in CA College Admissions
By Amanda Lepof, Program Assistant, Diversity, Equity, & Global Initiatives, AAC&U


"TESTING AND DIVERSITY IN POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION: THE CASE OF CALIFORNIA," A RESEARCH STUDY EXAMINING THE IMPACT OF ALTERNATIVE ADMISSIONS PROCEDURES REPLACING AFFIRMATIVE ACTION POLIEICES, REVEALS THAT RACE-NEUTRAL ADMISSION WILL LIKELY DECREASE RACIAL DIVERSITY IN THE UC SYSTEM. THE STUDY WAS CONDUCTED BY DANIEL KORETZ AND CATHY HORN OF HARVARD UNIVERSITY, MICHAEL RUSSELL AND KELLY SHASBY OF BOSTON COLLEGE, AND CHINGWEI DAVID SHIN OF THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA. THEY INVESTIGATED HOW THE ELIMINATION OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AFFECTED DIVERSITY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SYSTEM AND QUESTIONED IF SOCIOECONOMIC, EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND, OR OTHER FACTORS COULD BE USED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR RACE-BASED ADMISSIONS POLICIES.

From 1995 to 1997 in California, executive action and voter referenda have steadily eliminated affirmative action. Several other states, including Texas, Michigan, Washington, and Florida, have faced challenges or repeals to their affirmative action policies regarding public college and university admissions. The threat or repeal of affirmative action has led some states to develop alternative policies in order to increase or maintain the diversity of their student bodies.
The threat or repeal of affirmative action has led some states to develop alternative policies in order to increase or maintain the diversity of their student bodies.


California implemented a system favoring the high class ranking of high school seniors in its admissions policies. Texas and Florida have instituted similar procedures. In addition to purposeful recruiting and outreach to minority high schools, these states also implemented policies whereby students at each public high school in the state who place above a specified class rank percentile are guaranteed acceptance to at least one school in the state university system. The researchers termed these "X% admissions policies".

In California, the top 4% of graduating high school seniors from each high school are guaranteed admission to one of the eight University of California (UC) campuses--but not necessarily their first choice school. In Florida, the top 20% of graduating high school seniors are guaranteed admissions to at least one of Florida's 10 state universities. Additionally Florida schools are encouraged to consider the financial aid needs of these students before the financial aid needs of other students.

"Testing and Diversity in Postsecondary Education: The Case of California," further explored X% policies and other alternative admissions policies in California. The researchers studied the eight University of California campuses and chose three model schools, based on selectivity groupings. One school was chosen from the highly selective grouping, one from the moderately selective grouping, and one from the lowest selectivity grouping. They then developed race-neutral admissions data (focusing on student GPA and SAT scores) and compared that to true racial/ethnic composition of the student body in order to examine the impact of race neutral admissions in the UC system.

Resulting data indicated that race-neutral admissions would likely decrease the racial diversity of the UC system. Weighting socioeconomic background and educational factors had only moderate effects on increasing African American and Hispanic students' representation in the UC system.

The study also showed that California's current policy to accept the top 4% of high school seniors in each individual high school does not significantly increase the number of minority students accepted to UC campuses. Rather, the study found that accepting the top 12.5% of graduating seniors from each individual high school to one of eight University of California schools would increase diversity at UC campuses. Instituting a 12.5% policy would not only increase the number of Hispanic and African American students, but would also increase the number of students from urban areas and the number of students who speak a language other than English at home. The X% policy only increased the diversity of admitted students when a large percentage of students from each high school were guaranteed admissions.

The study concluded: "None of the alternative admissions models analyzed could replicate the composition of the student population that was in place before the termination of affirmative action in California." While the study was conducted using data in the California state system, the researchers believed that many of their findings could be generalized to other state admissions procedures.


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