Thursday, November 11, 2004

How affirmative action reduces the number of minority graduates.

Another example of old news seeming startlingly new...
A new study ... provid[es] stunning evidence that affirmative action may actually hurt the chances of blacks to obtain their law degrees.

Richard H. Sander, a law professor at UCLA and a self-described Democrat and lifelong supporter of affirmative action, has recently completed the most comprehensive look ever at the effect of affirmative action on the academic achievement of black law students. The study appears in the November issue of Stanford Law Review.

Looking at the performance of black and other students at 21 law schools in the mid-1990s, Sander notes in the introduction to his study, "there has never been a comprehensive attempt to assess the relative costs and benefits of racial preferences in any field of higher education."

Sander... argues that his data demonstrate that blacks are harmed by the very programs aimed at helping them. Most black applicants, he writes, "end up at schools where they will struggle academically and fail at higher rates than they would in the absence of preferences … most remarkably, a strong case can be made that in the legal education system as a whole, racial preferences end up producing fewer black lawyers each year than would be produced by a race-blind system."

Among first-year law students, Sander reports, 52 percent of blacks earn grades that put them in the lowest 10 percent of their class. Only 8 percent of blacks earn grades in the top half of their class. And their performance does not improve with time. About 19 percent of black students in this study dropped out without completing law school, compared with 8 percent of white students. Of those who completed law school, however, about half continued to earn grades that put them at the bottom 10 percent of their class. Consequently, only about 45 percent of black law school graduates pass their bar exams on their first attempt, compared with about 80 percent of white graduates.

Sander estimates that if black students were admitted through a race-blind process, so that their skills were properly matched to the schools' own admissions criteria, far more black students would do well, graduate and pass the bar. He estimates that the end of racial preferences could end up producing nearly 10 percent more black lawyers... (Linda Chavez)
The thing is, this isn't news.

This perverse effect of affirmative action was documented way back in 1993 by Thomas Sowell in his book Inside American Education. He noted then that, for example, while blacks admitted to MIT had SAT scores that put them among the top10% of all students nationwide, they were in the bottom 10% at MIT -- and 25% of them failed to graduate.

He also noted the example of the 317 black students admitted to UC Berkeley under affirmative action criteria in 1985. They had an average SAT score of 952, well above the national average of 900 -- but far below the UC Berkeley's average of nearly 1200. More than 70 percent of them failed to graduate.

Sowell also pointed out that there is a cascade effect. Top-tier schools like MIT and UC Berkeley use affirmative action to recruit minority students who would do fine at second-tier schools. Then second-tier schools recruit minority students who would do fine at third-tier schools... And the result is that across-the-board blacks have higher drop-out rates and lower levels of academic achievement than others in the same schools -- which continues to mystify many, and cause them to conclude that yet more forms of affirmative action and racial preferences are needed.

Now, university administrators certainly have known these numbers all along as well as Thomas Sowell did in 1993 and Richard Sander does now. Yet they continue to insist on continuing these affirmative action policies.

So we might ask ... who are the real beneficiaries of university affirmative action policies?