This week, we anticipate the decision in the affirmative action cases Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. Harvard University and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina. It has been 22 years since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:
The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today. Grutter v. Bollinger
When she wrote this, Justice O’Connor didn’t foresee a pandemic that would widen the education achievement gap between marginalized students and their contemporaries. Nor did she anticipate the “Great Recession” would cause millions of families to lose wealth. The pandemic and Great Recession” constrained families’ abilities to invest in their children’s education.
CCRI Turns 25
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the California Civil Rights Initiative (Prop 209) taking effect in college admissions. Prop 209 was a state constitution ballot initiative that said: “that the state cannot discriminate against or grant preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, and public contracting.”
My first publication examined the expected consequences of Prop 209. Cecilia A. Conrad and I projected enrollment of Black and Hispanic students rejected from UC Berkeley and UCLA to increase at the other University of California campuses.
Yesterday, Zach Bleemer was on NPR discussing the potential national effects of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban affirmative action. Using data from the University of California system, Bleemer has studied the impact of California’s Prop 209. He confirmed our findings – the less selective UC campuses have more racial and ethnic diversity.
He also answered a question we could only theorize about – what are the costs to students and society resulting from Prop 209? Bleemer found that URM students who attended a less selective UC campus relative to UC Berkeley had lower earnings and pursued STEM degrees and graduate school at lower rates. He found no added value for White and Asian students admitted to selective campuses due to the passage of Prop 209. Additionally, California had fewer URM residents (a decrease of 3%) in their early 30’s with earnings of more than $100,000.
While it may be hard for lawyers in the current cases to articulate the benefits of diversity, Bleemer found economic consequences for banning affirmative action in California. High-achieving Black students also left the state for ivy league institutions.
Ready to Lead
At the 2013 Center on Race and Wealth African American Economic Summitt, I said I did not believe the Supreme Court would strike down affirmative action in admissions. I thought the Supreme Court would require strict scrutiny, and I was right.
That was 10 years ago.
Today, I am confident the Supreme Court will repeal affirmative action.
My research on higher education access, educational attainment, and analyses for Diverse Magazines Top 100 Producers leads me to believe that historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions are primed to be leaders in producing graduates who, on average, will not experience lower incomes, go on to graduate school at higher rates and become leaders in STEM.
So, when the decision comes, I will not shed a tear for affirmative action but will rejoice in the possibilities for historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions.