Access and Equity

Affirmative action and its race-neutral alternatives

February 7, 2023

As affirmative action loses political feasibility, many universities have implemented race-neutral alternatives like top percent policies and holistic review to increase enrollment among disadvantaged students. I study these policies’ application, admission, and enrollment effects using University of California administrative data. UC’s affirmative action and top percent policies increased underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment by over 20 percent and less than 4 percent, respectively. Holistic review increases implementing campuses’ URM enrollment by about 7 percent. Top percent...

Affording the Dream: Student Debt and State Need-Based Grant Aid for Public University Students by C. Eaton, S. Kulkarni, R. Birgeneau, H. Brady, and M. Hout

C. Eaton
S. Kulkarni
Robert Birgeneau
Henry Brady
Michael Hout

Public research universities are a key vehicle for educational mobility. Yet rising student debt for undergraduate students has created new risks, particularly for lower income students at lower ranked universities. We find that student loan default rates reached 35 percent for low-income students at public universities with low research rankings during the Great Recession. Given these troubling loan default rates, we find encouraging evidence that a few U.S. states have adopted robust need-based grant aid programs to make college more affordable for low-income students. Such grant...

Affirmative Action, the Fisher Case, and the Supreme Court: What the Justices and the Public Need to Know, by John Aubrey Douglass

John Aubrey Douglass

Once again, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on the contentious issue of Affirmative Action, and specifically the use of race in admissions decisions in public universities. Despite differences in the details, seasoned veterans of affirmative action debates are experiencing déjà vu. In this case, Abigail Noel Fisher claims overt racial discrimination when the highly selective University of Texas at Austin (UT) rejected her freshman application in 2008. The Court’s ruling could range from upholding the legal precedent of allowing race to be one of many factors in admissions; to a...

Back to the Future: Freshman Admissions at the University of California, 1994 to the Present and Beyond, by Saul Geiser

Saul Geiser

The past five years have seen unprecedented changes in freshman admissions at the University of California, reflecting steep cuts in state funding that UC sustained during that period as well as changes in UC’s definition of who is eligible to enter the university. The number of California applicants who were not admitted to the UC system more than doubled between 2010 and 2012, although part of that increase also reflected a change in admissions policies and procedures. The number of “no shows” – applicants who were admitted but did not attend – increased...

International Berkeley: Enrolling International Students Yesterday and Today, Debates on the Benefits of Multicultural Diversity, and Macro Questions on Access and Equity by John Aubrey Douglass

John Aubrey Douglass

The argument that cultural and other forms of diversity enhance the educational experience of all students is generally associated largely with post-1960 efforts to expand the presence of disadvantaged groups on the campuses of America’s universities and colleges. Yet, in the case of UC Berkeley, debates on the merits of cultural diversity have much earlier roots in the historical enrollment of international students. Debates in the late 1800s and early twentieth century revolved around the appropriateness of enrolling foreign students, particularly those from Asia. The result was an...

The Growing Correlation Between Race and SAT Scores: New Findings from California by Saul Geiser

Saul Geiser

This paper presents new and surprising findings on the relationship between race and SAT scores. The findings are based on the population of California residents who applied for admission to the University of California from 1994 through 2011, a sample of over 1.1 million students. The UC data show that socioeconomic background factors – family income, parental education, and race/ethnicity – account for a large and growing share of the variance in students’ SAT scores over the past twenty years. More than a third of the variance in SAT scores can now be predicted by factors known at...

College Affordability and the Emergence of Progressive Tuition Models: Are New Financial Aid Policies at Major Public Universities Working? by Patrick A. Lapid and John Aubrey Douglass

Patrick A. Lapid
John Aubrey Douglass

In an era of significant disinvestment in public higher education by state governments, many public universities are moving toward a “progressive tuition model” that attempts to invest approximately one-third of tuition income into institutional financial aid for lower-income and middle-class students. The objective is to mitigate the cost of tuition and keep college affordable. But is this model as currently formulated working? What levels of financial stress are students of all income groups experiencing? And are they changing their behaviors? Utilizing data...

The "Turning Point" for Minority Pre-Meds: The Effect of Early Undergraduate Experience in the Sciences on Aspirations to Enter Medical School of Minority Students at UC Berkeley and Stanford University, by Donald A. Barr and John Matsui

Donald A. Barr
John Matsui

The University of California faces the challenge of increasing the diversity of students graduating from its medical schools while also adhering to mandated restrictions on the use of race or ethnicity in the admissions process. Students from diverse backgrounds who gain admission as undergraduates to UC Berkeley and express an early interest in a medical career are an important potential source of medical students for the UC system. However previous data suggest that many of these undergraduate students lose interest in a medical career and never apply to medical school. We report on...

Reflections on a Century of College Admissions Tests, by Richard C. Atkinson and Saul Geiser

Richard C. Atkinson
Saul Geiser

Standardized testing for college admissions has grown exponentially since the first administration of the old “College Boards” in 1901. This paper surveys major developments since then: the introduction of the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” in 1926, designed to tap students’ general analytic ability; E.F. Lindquist’s creation of the ACT in 1959 as a competitor to the SAT, intended as a measure of achievement rather than ability; the renewed interest on the part of some leading colleges and universities in subject-specific assessments such as the SAT Subject Tests and Advanced Placement...

No College Student Left Behind? by Steven Brint

Steven Brint

Today we face a challenge to the organization of higher education that will transform the enterprise, however it is resolved. That challenge goes under the name “learning outcomes,” or sometimes “accountability.” It is a challenge brought largely by those outside higher education, and it is based on criticisms of the performance of college and university instructors in the face of heightened public expectations. One resolution to the challenge may be the adoption of standardized testing for learning outcomes; another may be to bring greater professionalism to the role of college teaching...