NYT Misrepresents California’s Affirmative Action Results

23 Apr 2014 /

In reporting on yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold a Michigan ban on the use of racial preferences in admissions to public universities, the New York Times looks at results in other states that have banned racial preferences.

Here’s what the Times says about my state, California, which voted to ban racial preferences in UC admissions in 1998:

Hispanic and black enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles dropped sharply after voters approved a statewide ban on affirmative action. Those numbers have not recovered, even as the state’s Hispanic population has grown.

That is a misleading analysis for a couple of reasons:

One: Affirmative action was banned at all UC campuses, not just Berkeley and UCLA. Ignoring all the other campuses allows the Times to say that black and Hispanic enrollment “dropped sharply” when there was actually only a 2 percent decline in black and Hispanic enrollment in the University of California system as a whole.

Among other campuses, black and Hispanic enrollment was

* up 22 percent at UC Irvine
* up 18 percent at UC Santa Cruz
* up 65 percent at UC Riverside

There’s been a redistribution of black and Hispanic students, but not a sharp drop in enrollment.

Two: It doesn’t make sense to look at changes in enrollment without also looking at changes in graduation rates.

The number of black and Hispanic students graduating from UC schools

* in four years: up 55 percent
* in four years with a GPA of 3.5 or higher: up 63 percent
* with degrees in science, mathematics and engineering: up nearly 50 percent
* with doctoral degrees: up 20 percent

UCLA and (especially) Berkeley are elite universities. Black and Hispanic students who were admitted based on genetics rather than academic qualifications couldn’t compete at that level and had to drop out.

Who was helped? The dropouts? No. The qualified applicants who were passed over? No. It was a lose-lose scenario.

Now that students are admitted, regardless of race, to schools that they’re academically qualified to attend, graduation rates are much higher.

Always look askance at analysis of college admission policies in the absence of information on graduation rates.


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