From today’s WSJ, “Affirmative Action Backfires“: by Gail Heriot, professor of law at the University of San Diego and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Easily the most startling conclusion of his research: Mr. Sander calculated that there are fewer black attorneys today than there would have been if law schools had practiced color-blind admissions — about 7.9% fewer by his reckoning. He identified the culprit as the practice of admitting minority students to schools for which they are inadequately prepared. In essence, they have been “matched” to the wrong school.
Mr. Sander’s original article noted that when elite law schools lower their academic standards in order to admit a more racially diverse class, schools one or two tiers down feel they must do the same. As a result, there is now a serious gap in academic credentials between minority and non-minority law students across the pecking order, with the average black student’s academic index more than two standard deviations below that of his average white classmate.
Not surprisingly, such a gap leads to problems. Students who attend schools where their academic credentials are substantially below those of their fellow students tend to perform poorly.
As a result, in elite law schools, 51.6% of black students had first-year grade point averages in the bottom 10% of their class as opposed to only 5.6% of white students. Nearly identical performance gaps existed at law schools at all levels. This much is uncontroversial.
Mr. Sander calculated that if law schools were to use color-blind admissions policies, fewer black law students would be admitted to law schools (3,182 students instead of 3,706), but since those who were admitted would be attending schools where they have a substantial likelihood of doing well, fewer would fail or drop out (403 vs. 670). In the end, more would pass the bar on their first try (1,859 vs. 1,567) and more would eventually pass the bar (2,150 vs. 1,981) than under the current system of race preferences. Obviously, these figures are just approximations, but they are troubling nonetheless.
Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The other 43% are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. How great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify these costs?
MP: One problem is that despite all of the potential problems from a “mismatch” between a law school’s academic standard and the academic abilities of minority students, law schools are under extreme pressure to enroll minorities to maintain accreditation and student-loan eligibility.
Some admissions officer may be frantic to enroll minority students in order to comply with the stringent new diversity standards of the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. As the federal government’s accrediting agency for law schools, the ABA Council determines whether a law school will be eligible for the federal student-loan program. The law school that fails to satisfy its diversity requirements does so at its peril — as a number of law school deans can amply attest.
Decades of law students have relied upon the good faith of law school officials to tell them what they needed to know. For the 43% of black law students who never became lawyers, maybe that reliance was misplaced.
MP: Although the article above focuses on the “academic mismatch” problem at law school, the same analysis applies to university programs in general. The chart above (click to enlarge) shows data at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for undergraduate students, except for the last column on graduation rates, which is national data. The UM data (pre-Proposal 2) are from the Center for Equal Opportunity and clearly illustrate the mismatch problem:
A black student with a 3.2 high school GPA and 1210 SAT score has a 92% of admission to UM vs. only a 14% for a white student. However, 1) black students (45%) are almost 6 times as likely as white students (8%) to be on academic probation at UM, and 2) and almost 2/3 of black students (64%) fail to graduate nationally in 6 years, vs. 42% for white students.
Bottom Line: Eliminating affirmative action in higher education will elminate the “academic mismatch” problem, and increase minority students’ GPAs and graduation rates.
Read my article in “affirmative action grading” in the Detroit Free Press from last summer.