The use of race in college admissions is one of the most contentious issues in US higher education. We survey the literature on the impact of racial preferences in college admissions on both minority and majority students. With regard to minority students, particular attention is paid to the scope of preferences as well as how preferences affect graduation, choice of major, and labor market earnings. We also examine how schools respond to bans on racial preferences and the effects these responses have on racial diversity at elite schools. With regard to majority students, we examine the evidence on the returns to attending a more racially diverse school, as well as how racial preferences affect friendship formation. Finally, we supplement studies of affirmative action in the United States with evidence from India, which provides a much more straightforward environment in which to study affirmative action owing to the use of quotas and admissions rules based solely on exam scores.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Altonji JG, Blom E, Meghir C. 2012. Heterogeneity in human capital investments: high school curriculum, college major, and careers. Annu. Rev. Econ. 4:185–223 [Google Scholar]
  2. Altonji JG, Elder T, Taber C. 2005. Selection on observed and unobserved variables: assessing the effectiveness of Catholic schools. J. Polit. Econ. 113:151–84 [Google Scholar]
  3. Altonji JG, Pierret CR. 2001. Employer learning and statistical discrimination. Q. J. Econ. 116:313–50 [Google Scholar]
  4. Andrews RJ, Li J, Lovenheim MF. 2015. Quantile treatment effects of college quality on earnings: evidence from administrative data in Texas. J. Hum Resour. In press [Google Scholar]
  5. Antonovics K, Backes B. 2013. Were minority students discouraged from applying to University of California campuses after the affirmative action ban?. Educ. Finance Policy 8:208–50 [Google Scholar]
  6. Antonovics K, Backes B. 2014a. The effect of banning affirmative action on college admissions rules and student quality. J. Hum. Resour. 49:295–322 [Google Scholar]
  7. Antonovics K, Backes B. 2014b. The effect of banning affirmative action on human capital accumulation prior to college entry. IZA J. Labor Econ. 3:5 [Google Scholar]
  8. Arcidiacono P. 2004. Ability sorting and the returns to college major. J. Econom. 121:343–75 [Google Scholar]
  9. Arcidiacono P. 2005. Affirmative action in higher education: How do admission and financial aid rules affect future earnings?. Econometrica 73:1477–524 [Google Scholar]
  10. Arcidiacono P, Aucejo E, Coate P, Hotz VJ. 2014. Affirmative action and university fit: evidence from Proposition 209. IZA J. Labor Econ. 3:7 [Google Scholar]
  11. Arcidiacono P, Aucejo E, Fang H, Spenner K. 2011a. Does affirmative action lead to mismatch? A new test and evidence. Quant. Econ. 2:303–33 [Google Scholar]
  12. Arcidiacono P, Aucejo E, Hotz VJ. 2015. University differences in the graduation of minorities in STEM fields: evidence from California. NBER Work. Pap. 18799
  13. Arcidiacono P, Aucejo E, Hussey A, Spenner K. 2013. Racial segregation patterns in selective universities. J. Law Econ. 56:1039–60 [Google Scholar]
  14. Arcidiacono P, Aucejo E, Spenner K. 2012a. What happens after enrollment? An analysis of the time path of racial differences in GPA and major choice. IZA J. Labor Econ. 1:5 [Google Scholar]
  15. Arcidiacono P, Hotz VJ, Kang S. 2012b. Modeling college major choice using elicited measures of expectations and counterfactuals. J. Econom. 166:3–16 [Google Scholar]
  16. Arcidiacono P, Khan S, Vigdor J. 2011b. Representation versus assimilation: How do preferences in college admissions affect social interactions?. J. Public Econ. 95:1–15 [Google Scholar]
  17. Arcidiacono P, Koedel C. 2014. Race and college success: evidence from Missouri. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 6320–57
  18. Arcidiacono P, Lovenheim M. . 2015. Affirmative action and the quality-fit tradeoff. J. Econ. Lit. In press
  19. Arcidiacono P, Vigdor J. 2010. Does the river spill over? Estimating the economic returns to attending a racially diverse college. Econ. Inq. 48:537–57 [Google Scholar]
  20. Ariz. Prop. 104, 28th Legis. (2008)
  21. Ariz. Prop. 107, 49th Legis. (2010)
  22. Backes B. 2012. Do affirmative action bans lower minority college enrollment and attainment?. J. Hum. Resour. 47:435–55 [Google Scholar]
  23. Bagde S, Epple D, Taylor L. 2014. Dismantling the legacy of caste: affirmative action in Indian higher education. Work. Pap., Carnegie Mellon Univ., Pittsburgh, PA
  24. Bertrand M, Hanna R, Mulllainathan S. 2010. Affirmative action in education: evidence from engineering college admissions in India. J. Public Econ. 94:16–29 [Google Scholar]
  25. Black DA, Smith JA. 2004. How robust is the evidence on the effects of college quality? Evidence from matching. J. Econom. 121:99–124 [Google Scholar]
  26. Black DA, Smith JA. 2006. Estimating the returns to college quality with multiple proxies for quality. J. Labor Econ. 24:701–28 [Google Scholar]
  27. Boisjoly J, Duncan GJ, Kremer M, Levy DM, Eccles J. 2006. Empathy or antipathy? The impact of diversity. Am. Econ. Rev. 96:1890–905 [Google Scholar]
  28. Bound J, Lovenheim M, Turner S. 2010. Why have college completion rates declined? An analysis of changing student preparation and collegiate resources. Am. Econ. J. Appl. Econ. 2:3129–57 [Google Scholar]
  29. Bound J, Turner S. 2007. Cohort crowding: how resources affect collegiate attainment. J. Public Econ. 91:877–99 [Google Scholar]
  30. Bowen W, Bok D. 1998. The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press
  31. Brewer DJ, Eide ER, Ehrenberg RG. 1999. Does it pay to attend an elite private college? Cross-cohort evidence on the effects of college type on earnings. J. Hum. Resour. 34:104–23 [Google Scholar]
  32. Brint S, Cantwell AM, Saxena P. 2012. Disciplinary categories, majors, and undergraduate academic experiences: rethinking Bok’s “underachieving colleges” thesis. Res. Higher Educ. 53:1–25 [Google Scholar]
  33. Calif. Prop. 209, 1995–1996 Legis. (1996)
  34. Camargo B, Stinebrickner R, Stinebrickner T. 2010. Interracial friendships in college. J. Labor Econ. 156:106–29 [Google Scholar]
  35. Card D, Krueger A. 2005. Would the elimination of affirmative action affect highly qualified minority applicants? Evidence from California and Texas. Ind. Labor Relat. Rev. 58:416–34 [Google Scholar]
  36. Carrell S, Fullerton R, West J. 2009. Does your cohort matter? Measuring peer effects in college achievement. J. Labor Econ. 27:439–64 [Google Scholar]
  37. Carrell S, Sacerdote B, West J. 2013. From natural variation to optimal policy? The importance of endogenous peer group formation. Econometrica 81:855–82 [Google Scholar]
  38. Chan J, Eyster E. 2003. Does banning affirmative action lower college student quality?. Am. Econ. Rev. 93:858–72 [Google Scholar]
  39. Coate S, Loury GC. 1993. Will affirmative-action policies eliminate negative stereotypes?. Am. Econ. Rev. 83:1220–40 [Google Scholar]
  40. Dale SB, Krueger AB. 2002. Estimating the payoff to attending a more selective college: an application of selection on observables and unobservables. Q. J. Econ. 117:1491–527 [Google Scholar]
  41. Dale SB, Krueger AB. 2014. Estimating the return to college selectivity over the career using administrative earnings data. J. Hum. Resour. 49:323–58 [Google Scholar]
  42. Daniel K, Black D, Smith J. 1995. College characteristics and the wages of young women. Work. Pap., Univ. Kentucky, Lexington
  43. Daniel K, Black D, Smith J. 1997. College quality and the wages of young men. Work. Pap., Univ. Kentucky, Lexington
  44. Daniel K, Black D, Smith J. 2000. Racial differences in the effects of college quality and student body diversity on wages. Diversity Challenged: Evidence on the Impact of Affirmative Action Orfield G. 221–32 Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educ. [Google Scholar]
  45. Elliot R, Strenga AC, Adair R, Matier M, Scott J. 1996. The role of ethnicity in choosing and leaving science in highly selective institutions. Res. Higher Educ. 37:681–709 [Google Scholar]
  46. Epple D, Romano R, Sieg H. 2008. Diversity and affirmative action in higher education. J. Public Econ. Theory 10:474–501 [Google Scholar]
  47. Exec. Order No. 10925, 26 Fed. Reg. 781 (1961)
  48. Exec. Order No. 11246, 30 Fed. Reg. 12319 (1965)
  49. Exec. Order No. 11375, 32 Fed. Reg. 14303 (1967)
  50. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 US 2411 (2013)
  51. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 631 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2011)
  52. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 758 F.3d 633 (5th Cir. 2014)
  53. Francis A, Tannuri-Pianto M. 2012. Using Brazil’s racial continuum to examine the short-term effects of affirmative action in higher education. J. Hum. Resour. 47:754–84 [Google Scholar]
  54. Fryer RG Jr., Loury GC, Yuret T. 2008. An economic analysis of color-blind affirmative action. J. Law Econ. Organ. 24:319–55 [Google Scholar]
  55. Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 US 244 (2003)
  56. Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 US 306 (2003)
  57. Hamilton R, Batheja A. 2013. Senate votes to extend UT-Austin’s admissions cap. Texas Tribune. http://www.texastribune.org/2013/05/21/senate-votes-keep-top-ten-percent-rule-now/
  58. Hickman BR. 2013. Pre-college human capital investment and affirmative action: a structural policy analysis of US college admissions. Work. Pap., Univ. Chicago
  59. Hinrichs P. 2011. The effects of attending a diverse college. Econ. Educ. Rev. 30:332–41 [Google Scholar]
  60. Hinrichs P. 2012. The effects of affirmative action bans on college enrollment, educational attainment, and the demographic composition of universities. Rev. Econ. Stat. 94:712–22 [Google Scholar]
  61. Hoekstra M. 2009. The effect of attending the flagship state university on earnings: a discontinuity-based approach. Rev. Econ. Stat. 91:717–24 [Google Scholar]
  62. Holzer H, Neumark D. 2000. Assessing affirmative action. J. Econ. Lit. 38:483–568 [Google Scholar]
  63. Hopwood v. State of Texas, 84 F.3d 720 (5th Cir. 1996)
  64. Howell JS. 2010. Assessing the impact of eliminating affirmative action in higher education. J. Labor Econ. 28:113–66 [Google Scholar]
  65. Hoxby C, Avery C. 2013. The missing “one-offs”: the hidden supply of high-achieving, low income students. Brookings Pap. Econ. Act. 2013:11–65 [Google Scholar]
  66. Hoxby C, Turner S. 2013. Expanding college opportunities for high-achieving, low income students. Work. Pap., Stanford Univ., Stanford, CA
  67. Johnson V. 2003. Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education. New York: Springer
  68. Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University of Georgia, 263 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2001)
  69. Kain JF, O’Brien DM, Jargowsky PA. 2005. Hopwood and the Top 10 Percent Law: how they have affected the college enrollment decisions of Texas high school graduates. Rep., Andrew W. Mellon Found. http://www.utdallas.edu/research/tsp-erc/pdf/wp_kain_2005_hopwood_top_10_percent.pdf.pdf
  70. Kane TJ. 1998. Racial and ethnic preferences in college admission. The Black-White Test Score Gap Jencks C, Phillips M. 431–56 Washington, DC: Brookings Inst. [Google Scholar]
  71. Long MC. 2004a. College applications and the effect of affirmative action. J. Econom. 121:319–42 [Google Scholar]
  72. Long MC. 2004b. Race and college admission: an alternative to affirmative action?. Rev. Econ. Stat. 86:1020–33 [Google Scholar]
  73. Long MC. 2007. Affirmative action and its alternatives in public universities: What do we know?. Public Adm. Rev. 67:311–25 [Google Scholar]
  74. Long MC, Tienda M. 2008. Winners and losers: changes in Texas university admissions post-Hopwood. Educ. Eval. Policy Anal. 30:255–80 [Google Scholar]
  75. Marin P, Lee EK. 2003. Appearance and reality in the Sunshine State: the Talented 20 Program in Florida. Rep., Civil Rights Proj., Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA. http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/research/college-access/admissions/appearance-and-reality-in-the-sunshine-state-the-talented-20-program-in-florida/marine-appearnace-reality-sunshine-2003.pdf
  76. Natl. Conf. State Legis 2014. Affirmative action: state action. Natl. Conf. State Legis., Washington, DC. http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/affirmative-action-state-action.aspx
  77. Neal D. 2006. Why has black–white skill convergence stopped?. Handbook of the Economics of Education Vol. 1 Hanushek E, Welch F. 511–76 Amsterdam: North-Holland [Google Scholar]
  78. N. H. State Legis. HB 623, 2011 Legis. (2011)
  79. Okla. Senate Joint Resolut. 15, 53rd Legis. (2011)
  80. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 US 265 (1978)
  81. Robles VCF, Krishna K. 2012. Affirmative action in higher education in India: targeting, catch up, and mismatch. NBER Work. Pap. 17727
  82. Sabot R, Wakeman-Linn J. 1991. Grade inflation and course choice. J. Econ. Perspect. 5:1159–70 [Google Scholar]
  83. Sacerdote B. 2001. Peer effects with random assignment: results for Dartmouth roommates. Q. J. Econ. 116:681–704 [Google Scholar]
  84. Sander RH. 2004. A systematic analysis of affirmative action in American law schools. Stanford Law Rev. 57:367–483 [Google Scholar]
  85. Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigration Rights, 572 US ___ (2014)
  86. Smyth FL, McArdle JJ. 2004. Ethnic and gender differences in science graduation at selective colleges with implications for admission policy and college choice. Res. Higher Educ. 45:353–81 [Google Scholar]
  87. Stinebrickner TR, Stinebrickner R. 2006. What can be learned about peer effects using college roommates? Evidence from new survey data and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. J. Public Econ. 90:1435–54 [Google Scholar]
  88. Stinebrickner TR, Stinebrickner R. 2014. Math or science? Using longitudinal expectations data to examine the process of choosing a college major. Rev. Econ. Stud. 81:1426–72 [Google Scholar]
  89. Tex. HB 588, 75th Legis. (1997)
  90. Tex. Tribune 2014. Tribpedia: top ten percent rule. http://www.texastribune.org/tribpedia/top-ten-percent-rule/about/
  91. Tex. SB 175, 81st Legis. (2009)
  92. Zimmerman DJ. 2003. Peer effects in academic outcomes: evidence from a natural experiment. Rev. Econ. Stat. 85:9–23 [Google Scholar]
  93. Zimmerman S. 2014. The returns to college admission for academically marginal students. J. Labor Econ. 32:711–54 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error