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New Research: Affirmative Action Based on Disadvantage Could Increase Racial Diversity at America’s Most Elite Colleges

WASHINGTON--()--New research reveals African-American and Hispanic enrollments at America’s 193 most elite colleges would more than double if the top ten percent of every class were guaranteed admission and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were given an admissions boost.

The research, authored by Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose, and Jeff Strohl, is featured in a new book launched by the Century and Lumina Foundations entitled The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v. University of Texas.

The case for affirmative action based on disadvantage is now clear. #HEDiversity

“Our analyses demonstrate that there are sizable numbers of minorities and low-income students who can improve diversity at the 193 “Most” and “Highly” selective colleges as listed in Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, without appreciably lowering college-wide test scores and thereby graduation rates,” said Georgetown University Professor Anthony P. Carnevale.

Carnevale and his team modeled the effects of three race-neutral admissions plans, shown in the figure below, compared with the status quo and a pure merit-based admissions model.

Admitting the top ten percent of students from each high school class based on test-scores alone would increase African American enrollments from 4% to 6% and Hispanic enrollments from 7% to 11%, while also increasing the mean SAT score from the current 1230, to 1254.

Admitting the top ten percent, combined with taking into account sophisticated SES factors - such as family income, savings and education - African American and Hispanic enrollments would double to 9% and 14% respectively, while mean SAT scores would lower only modestly to 1160.

“The case for affirmative action based on disadvantage is now clear,” said Richard Kahlenberg, TCF senior fellow and editor of The Future of Affirmative Action: New Paths to Higher Education Diversity after Fisher v. University of Texas.

“Colleges need to get their heads out of the sand and start taking action to ensure racial diversity is maintained on campuses, even where race-based affirmative action is longer an option.”

The book, launched at a Lumina Ideas Summit in Washington DC today, features articles from college presidents, chancellors and administrators, as well as academics, lawyers and economists and represents a major step forward in the campaign for continued diversity on college campuses in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions that have cast doubt over race-based admissions policies.

“We’re very pleased to support the publication of this timely and important new book,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. “Lumina is committed to fostering equity and excellence in higher education, and we believe the fresh thinking reflected in this volume can contribute significantly to that effort.”

Alternatives to race-based affirmative action explored in the book include:

  • Sophisticated SES measures that take into account parental income, education and savings, as well as neighborhood factors such as school poverty concentration;
  • Percent plans that guarantee admission to top graduates from each high school across a state;
  • Reducing reliance on standardized test scores;
  • Using zip-codes as a factor in admissions;
  • Addressing undermatch, not just at elite colleges, but across the full range of four year institutions; and
  • Establishing a national database of admissible students to help colleges recruit representative cohorts.

To access the full report visit:

To watch the live webcast of today’s Lumina Ideas Summit where The Future of Affirmative Action will be launched visit:

Full list of contributors:

  • Editor: Richard D. Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation
  • Danielle Allen, UPS Foundation Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.
  • John Brittain, Professor of Law University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law.
  • Nancy Cantor, Chancellor, Rutgers University-Newark.
  • Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • Dalton Conley, University Professor at New York University.
  • Arthur L. Coleman, Co-founder and co-managing partner of EducationCounsel LLC.
  • Peter Englot, Senior Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff at Rutgers University-Newark.
  • Matthew N. Gaertner, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for College and Career Success at Pearson.
  • Sara Goldrick-Rab, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Scott Greytak, Associate with Campinha Bacote LLC.
  • Catharine Hill, President of Vassar College
  • Jessica Howell, Economist and Executive Director of Policy Research at the College Board.
  • Benjamin Landy, homepage editor at MSNBC and former Policy Associate at The Century Foundation.
  • Richard L. McCormick, President Emeritus and Professor of History and Education at Rutgers.
  • Nancy McDuff, Director of Admissions, University of Georgia.
  • Halley Potter, Policy Associate, The Century Foundation.
  • Alexandria Walton Radford, Director of the Transition to College Program at RTI International.
  • Stephen J. Rose, Senior Economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • Richard Sander, Economist and Law Professor at UCLA’s School of Law.
  • Jeff Strohl, Director of Research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
  • Teresa Taylor, Policy and Legal Advisor, EducationCounsel LLC.
  • Marta Tienda, Maurice P. During ‘22 Professor of Demographic Studies and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.
Tracy Chen

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