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Without affirmative action, Asian admission rates rise

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In the absence of affirmative action laws, admission rates at public universities have risen for Asian-American students, while numbers for white, black and Hispanic students have declined, according to a recent study.

The study, released by the University of California at Los Angeles last week, also found that across all races, the male population drops in schools with blind admissions processes.

The study tracked admission statistics for selective public universities in three of the nation’s four most populous states – California, Florida and Texas. These states have not had affirmative action in college admissions since 1999.

“What we were doing was taking a look at three states that had felt the effects of banning affirmative action,” said study co-author David Colburn, professor emeritus and provost emeritus at the University of Florida. “We wanted to see how it all played out.”

Working with Colburn on the report was Victor Yellen, emeritus lecturer, assistant provost and former director of institutional research at UF, and Charles Young, chancellor emeritus and professor at UCLA.

Young was UF’s president when the state banned affirmative action and was chancellor at UCLA, which also prohibits affirmative action, for nearly 30 years before that.

“He had a comparative perspective,” Colburn said.

Though the results of the affirmative action ban varied from state to state because of differences in policies intended to mitigate the effects, general trends emerged to confirm that Asian-American students are disadvantaged in a race-conscious admissions system.

California was hit hardest in its loss of black and Hispanic students and did the least legislatively to retain diversity. In 1996, Californians adopted Proposition 209, which prohibited university admission offices from considering race, sex or ethnicity in its decisions.

As a result, the number of black students admitted to the University of California at Berkeley dropped from 562 in fall 1997 to 191 in fall 1998. Hispanic admission numbers plunged as well, from 1,266 to 600. Since 1997, the percentage of black and Latino students admitted to the University has dropped 6.5 percent while the Asian-American percentage has jumped 6.2 percent.

Florida and Texas were able to stifle such dramatic population shifts by implementing programs to ensure public university admission to high-achieving high school students. Texas, which lost a court challenge to its affirmative action policy in 1996, passed a law in 1997 that guaranteed acceptance at all state-funded universities to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

“Their African-American and Latino numbers continued to be pretty good,” Colburn said.

When it decided to slash affirmative action in 1999, Florida implemented the “Talented 20” program, which guarantees state university admission to students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class. The report found that “diversity in Florida was pretty good,” Colburn said.

Colburn stressed that affirmative action bans have the biggest impact on the male population across all races. Male population overall declined fairly significantly among all races and ethnicities, the report found.

Colburn said the general rise of the Asian-American population in California does not account for their increased representation at public universities.

The report shows that “Asian-American students were winners in California,” he said. “The system was a loser by having much less diversity than they had previously.”

Vincent Quan, a junior at Berkeley, said that even as an Asian- American student, “it was kind of a culture shock to see that many Asian people on campus.” Berkeley’s freshmen admits were 41.7 percent Asian American or Pacific Islander in fall 2007, according to a Berkeley brochure.

Quan said that living in such an environment can skew perspectives on the outside world.

“I think when you go to a school like Berkeley, where you see a lot of people of the same ethnicity, it feels like you’re in a bubble,” he said. “You think Berkeley is how the world is. When you leave campus to go somewhere else, it’s a little bit shocking.”

Quan said that the large Asian American population “provides you a unit to associate with,” but he couldn’t say if it was necessarily good or bad for the school.

Affirmative action opponents had mixed reactions to the study. Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, an organization that lobbies against affirmative action, said since Asian Americans are “disproportionately well qualified,” he was not surprised that “a color-blind admissions process favors them.”

Some of the report’s findings were less believable for Clegg.

“I’m skeptical of the finding that white students would not also be helped by a policy that gets rid of discrimination,” Clegg said. “Our studies have shown that white students are hindered by politically correct admissions policies.”

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