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Affirmative Action Bans in Universities: Who Gains?

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Which group has gained the most from affirmative action bans in California, Texas and Florida universities?

Now that those states have banned race-based preferences in college admissions, Asian Americans have emerged as the frontrunners in academia.

A report called “Admissions and Public Higher Education in California, Texas and Florida: The Post-Affirmative Action Era” found that Asian-American students particularly benefitted from the state of California’s Proposition 209, which banned state entities from using affirmative action in 1996. After the ban’s implementation, for instance, the percentage of Asian Americans at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) grew from 37.3% in 1995 to 43.6% in 2000. Since then, according to the report, the number and percentage of Asian Americans has reached 46.6% at the school.

The University of Texas and University of Florida systems also experienced a jump in the amount of Asian Americans after the barring of affirmative action. Texas banned affirmative action in 1996, when the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Hopwood v. Texas that using race in the college admissions process violated the Constitution (a decision that was reversed in 2003). Then, in 1999, Florida banned affirmative action after then Gov. Jeb Bush's “One Florida” initiative barred raced-based preferences in public universities and other state entities.

Have White Students Made Gains in the Post-Affirmative Action Era?

It’s no surprise to analysts that Asian Americans have benefitted from an affirmative action ban, as many predicted they would before the passing of such legislation. At the same time, however, analysts predicted that white enrollment would grow. Turns out that’s not the case.

After affirmative action’s disappearance in California, Texas and Florida, the percentage of white students at public universities there declined. University of California, San Diego (UCSD), experienced the largest drop in white enrollment among the universities examined in California, Texas and Florida. There, the portion of first-year white students plummeted from 56.9% in 1990 to 33.3% in 2005.

The authors of the study cite a drop in white residency in those regions as a major reason for the decline. But they also note, “For those who campaigned for the elimination of affirmative action in the belief that it would advantage the admission of white students, the trend…can hardly be satisfying.”

The amount of white students may be dropping because of demographic changes in California, Texas and Florida. But what’s responsible for the rise of Asian-American students at universities that prohibit race-based preferences in admissions? According to the report, these students fill the void left by the dip in black and Hispanic students in a post-affirmative action era.

African Americans: The Casualties of Affirmative Bans in Higher Ed

California’s elite public universities saw an exodus of African Americans leave following affirmative action’s statewide ban. Before Proposition 209’s implementation, UCB’s entering class was 6.5% African American. A decade later in 2005, the percentage of blacks among the school’s freshman class dipped to just below 3%. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the percentage of black freshman decreased from 7.3% in 1995 to 2.7% in 2005.

Texas and Florida universities saw less of a decrease among new African American students. In Texas the percentage of African American freshman declined by only .51% between 1995 and 2002. Three years later, the percentage of black freshman actually went up by about 1.7%. That’s because the state adopted a program that guaranteed admission to students in the Top 10 percent of their classes. Florida proved even more generous, guaranteeing admission to high school students in the Top 20 percent of their classes.

Affirmative Action’s End Renders Mixed Results for Latinos

Hispanics make up a larger percent of the population in California, Texas and Florida than do blacks but their percentages at some universities did decline following affirmative action bans.

UCB’s enrollment of new Hispanic students hit a high of 20% in 1990. By 2005, their enrollment dropped to 8.6%. At UCLA, Hispanic enrollment peaked at 16.1% in 1995, hitting a low of 12.5% in 2000.

The good news for Hispanic students is that at UCSD, University of Florida and University of Texas, their numbers rose slightly, a result of their rise in the general population, according to the study.

Still, the authors expressed concern about declining numbers of both black and Hispanic students at universities where affirmative action is banned.

“It is clear that educators and policymakers need to examine these trends more fully and determine how well these state universities are serving all populations and meeting the full needs of their respective citizens,” they wrote.

The Price of Ending Affirmative Action in Higher Ed

What’s the cost of ending race-based preferences in college admissions? Less diverse college campuses, a lack of different viewpoints in academia and a less competitive workforce. Accordingly, in states that ban affirmative action, steps must be taken to find alternative methods to create diversity on college campuses. By guaranteeing admission to students in the Top 10 and Top 20 percentile of their high school classes, Texas and Florida, respectively, have made serious strides in keeping their college campuses diverse. However, their universities remain less so than those that practice affirmative action.

Segregated state universities likely mean a segregated workforce, not to mention segregated neighborhoods and, thus, a segregated nation. That said, a level playing field should be a priority in state universities with or without affirmative action.

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