DIVERSITY IN UNIVERSITY ADMISSIONS: Affirmative Action, Percent Plans, and Holistic Review by Zachary Bleemer CSHE 6.19 (July 2019)


There is considerable interest in the impact of policy alternatives to race-based affirmative action (AA) on under-represented minority (URM) university enrollment. Widely-implemented alternatives include percent plans, which guarantee admission to top high school students, and holistic review, in which applications are evaluated on a comprehensive set of merits. This study estimates each policy's URM enrollment effect at the University of California (UC). Difference-in-difference estimates show that AA increased annual UC URM enrollment by more than 800 students (20%), and by more than 60% at the Berkeley and UCLA campuses. Three years after UC's AA program ended in 1998, UC guaranteed admission to the top 4 percent of students from each California high school under its Eligibility in the Local Context program. Extrapolation from a regression discontinuity design shows that ELC increased total URM enrollment among applicants annually by about 250, or 3.5%, primarily at three UC campuses. ELC largely ceased impacting UC enrollment after a 2012 reform, but triple-difference estimates show that several campuses' simultaneous switches to holistic review prevented URM enrollment decline. Six UC campuses have implemented holistic review, with an event study suggesting that each implementation increased URM enrollment at that campus by about 10%, though some enrollees were pulled from other UC campuses. While AA had a larger effect on URM enrollment than percent plans or holistic review, the latter policies have substantively mitigated URM enrollment declines at some UC campuses following AA's prohibition.

Zachary Bleemer
Publication date: 
July 16, 2019
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)