Opponents of race-sensitive admissions programs claim that Black students are being admitted to undergraduate and graduate programs where they will be unable to compete with their White peers. As a result, many of these Black students are doomed to fail and end up dropping out.
A new paper authored by scholars at Duke University and the London School of Economics and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research examines the graduation rates of minority students before and after the ban on race-sensitive admissions at state universities in California. After the ban on race-sensitive admissions took place, Black enrollments at the most prestigious campuses of the University of California system declined significantly and have never recovered. But Black enrollment increased at other campuses of the university system. The data shows that system-wide graduation rates of minority students in fact rose by 4.4 percentage points and that the placement of Black students on campuses of California state universities where they were better able to compete was a factor in the improvement.
But the analysis found that this matching of students to the right campus of the University of California system was only responsible for 20 percent of the increase in graduation rates. The fact that admissions standards were raised (and thus many Black students were excluded who may have been admitted under a race-sensitive admissions plan) accounted for up to half the increase in graduation rates. The authors found that after the ban on race-sensitive admissions was enacted, California universities increased efforts to retain and graduate minority students, and that his accounted for between 30 and 46 percent of the increase in graduation rates.
So the so-called “mismatch theory” that claims that Black students were placed on campuses where they could not compete, really plays only a minor role in graduation rates. And it is important to note that the small increase in graduation rates does not make up for the smaller numbers of Black and other minority students who enrolled at these institutions prior to the ban on race sensitive admissions. The bottom line is that fewer Black students are gaining graduation credentials from the state university system, particularly from its most prestigious campuses.