Shockwaves: Tracing the Effects of Affirmative Action Bans Through the High School to College Transition

Investigator: Thurston Domina

Graduate Student Researcher: Erik Ruzek

Funding: American Educational Research Association

Affirmative action in college recruiting, admissions, and financial aid was once a central mechanism in the effort to narrow racial educational inequalities in the United States. But today, affirmative action's future is uncertain. Affirmative action bans have forced fundamental changes in the ways that public colleges and universities approach higher education recruiting and admissions. In California, Texas, Washington, and Florida, public higher education policymakers have chosen from a range of post-affirmative action strategies that includes admissions guarantees for students in the top x percent of their high school classes; new admissions formulae that deemphasize standardized test scores; and "full-file" admissions systems, which make it possible to give informal preferences to students who have overcome educational disadvantage. In addition, flagship universities in each of these states have undertaken ambitious recruiting and high school outreach efforts designed to expand the pool of minority students who are admissible under racially-neutral admissions standards.

These policy shifts create natural experiments for assessing educational policy's role in the production and mitigation of inequality in college access. This study took advantage of these natural experiments, using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS) and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) to trace the effects of affirmative action on the pipeline between U.S. high school and higher education in the U.S. The analyses indicate that affirmative action bans broaden racial inequalities in selective college access. More broadly, they suggest that affirmative action bans reduce minority high school students' educational expectations, AP test-taking odds, and skill acquisition.