Inevitably, the U.S. Supreme Court will reexamine the issue of race-sensitive admissions in higher education. With a Supreme Court that now has a conservative majority, the constitutionality of affirmative action may be in doubt.
A new study by Joni Hersch, the Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Law and Economics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, shows the devasting effects that would occur, should the Supreme Court ban the consideration of race in admissions decisions at the nation’s most elite universities and professional schools.
Using data on nearly 500,000 college graduates, Professor Hersch demonstrates that the likelihood of earning a professional or graduate degree — an outcome that is closely linked to employment in influential positions — drops off dramatically in the universities attended by the majority of college graduates, as compared with elite universities that use affirmative action. Further, she found that race is a relatively unimportant predictor of professional or graduate degree attainment among graduates of these highly selective universities and professional schools.
As a result, the elimination of affirmative action would not only reduce the number of Black students at these universities and professional schools, it would, in turn, reduce the number of Black professionals in law, medicine, and other fields.
Professor Hersch concludes that “should affirmative action fall, the enrollment of underrepresented minorities in elite institutions will decline, further exacerbating the underrepresentation of minorities in positions of influence. The already existing lack of diversity in leadership roles impairs our nation’s efforts to reckon with its history of racial injustice.”