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June 16, 2005

The Opportunity Costs of Affirmative Action

A new paper, ,"The Opportunity Cost of Admission Preferences at Elite Universities," quantifies the effect that eliminating racial preferences would have on the demographics of elite universities. The advertised conclusions come as no surprise to me: (1) it would greatly reduce the number of black and Hispanic students and (2) it would not greatly increase the admit rate for white students. What blows me away is the effect on Asian admissions: 80% of the spaces taken by affirmative action would go to Asian students.

Disregarding race in college admissions would cause sharp drops in the number of black and Hispanic students at elite institutions, according to a new study by two researchers at Princeton University.

The study, described in an article published in the June issue of Social Science Quarterly, also found that eliminating affirmative action would significantly raise the number of Asian-American students, while having little effect on white students.

If affirmative action were eliminated, the acceptance rates for black applicants would fall to 12.2 percent from 33.7 percent, while the acceptance rates for Hispanic applicants would drop to 12.9 percent from 26.8 percent, according to the study. Asian-American students would fill nearly 80 percent of the spaces not taken by black and Hispanic students, the researchers found, while the acceptance rate for white students would increase by less than 1 percent.

The researchers who conducted the study -- Thomas J. Espenshade, a professor of sociology, and Chang Y. Chung, a statistical programmer at Princeton's Office of Population Research -- looked at the race, sex, SAT scores, and legacy status, among other characteristics, of more than 124,000 applicants to elite colleges.

"The most important conclusion is the negative impact on African-American and Hispanic students if affirmative-action practices were eliminated," Mr. Espenshade said in a written statement.

Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, which opposes racial preferences in admissions, said the study's findings revealed that affirmative-action policies are "about discrimination."

"That it's Asian students who bear the brunt of affirmative-action policies at elite institutions strikes me as an interesting finding in and of itself," Mr. Balch said.

As a liberal white guy who's gone thru the elite college admissions process, I was generally okay with the idea of elite whites screwing a fraction of poor whites out of spots at the top schools. From a liberal point of view, this might be an acceptable trade-off. But what moral sense can be made of white elites screwing Asian students to pay the price of racial good-will? This should offend liberal sensibilities.

Posted by rikurzhen at 02:54 PM