A Detailed Look at the Downside of California’s Ban on Affirmative ActionBreaking News
tags: California, affirmative action, colleges and universities, ballot initiatives, referendums
Twenty-four years ago, California was consumed by debate over affirmative action. A charismatic Black businessman named Ward Connerly led support for Proposition 209, a ballot initiative to ban racial preferences in admission to the state’s world-renowned public universities. The measure passed with 55 percent of the vote and inspired similar changes in nearly a dozen other states.
This November, with an initiative to repeal Proposition 209 on the ballot, California voters will have the opportunity to change their minds. And a comprehensive study released Friday finds that by nearly every measure, the ban has harmed Black and Hispanic students, decreasing their number in the University of California system while reducing their odds of finishing college, going to graduate school and earning a high salary. At the same time, the policy didn’t appear to greatly benefit the white and Asian-American students who took their place.
Affirmative action, Mr. Connerly has said, is outdated, unfair and bad for everyone — including students of color. Of Black students, he said: “Do you know what reinforces the idea that they’re inferior? Being told they need a preference to succeed.”
Opponents of affirmative action have aggressively challenged race-based preferences in the Supreme Court, and are expected to do so again. This month, President Trump’s Department of Justice accused Yale of illegal admissions discrimination against white and Asian-American students.
In California, the effect of Proposition 209 on the state’s elite universities was immediate. Black and Hispanic enrollment at the flagship Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses fell steeply. Legal challenges to the policy were beaten back. A generation of students has since come and gone.
Now a Berkeley economist, Zachary Bleemer, has conducted the first comprehensive study of what actually happened to those students. He assembled an anonymized database of every student who applied to eight campuses in the University of California system from 1994 to 2002, including their high school grades, demographics, income and SAT scores. He tracked where they went to college, whether in California or elsewhere, along with their academic majors and degrees. For those in California, he also tracked what courses they took and how much they earned in the job market for years after graduation.
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