Affirmative action ban cuts law school admission rates for black applicants, study shows

Michael Drummond/File

Related Posts

California’s 1996 affirmative action ban cut black admission rates to UC Berkeley and UCLA law schools by half when accounting for applicants who are deterred by the ban, according to a recent study.

The study, released last month and authored by campus assistant professor of economics Danny Yagan, found that although the ban didn’t affect UC Berkeley law school’s black admission rate, it did decrease the number of black students applying. To account for this, the study included black students with lower qualifications who are now discouraged from applying because of the ban and calculated that the resulting admission rates of black students fell from 61 percent to 31 percent for UC Berkeley and UCLA.

The affirmative action ban went into effect in November 1996 when the California state constitution was amended to prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity and national origin in public employment and education. The ban was immediately applied to UC law schools, leading to a drop in applications from black students with lower credentials who had more incentive to apply to other elite law schools that use affirmative action, Yagan said.

Because both UC Berkeley and UCLA law schools are attended in large part by graduates from elite colleges, Yagan looked at pre- and post-ban data from nearly 26,000 law school applications submitted between 1990 and 2006 from undergraduates attending one elite college to determine the admission rate drop.

“The results support what UC administrators originally warned: high levels of racial diversity while staying elite requires race-based affirmative action,” Yagan said in an email.

The study estimates that the black admission rates it calculated would have fallen to much lower than 31 percent — to 8 percent — had admission standards been focused on LSAT and GPA figures. The figure is higher because both campuses’ law schools are allowed to consider nonracial criteria such as low family income — a factor that predominates among black applicants — as part of their admissions process.

According to Susan Gluss, spokesperson for UC Berkeley School of Law, black students’ enrollment dropped about 95 percent immediately after the 1996 ban, but over time, the levels have varied. For example, 12 black students are enrolled for the fall 2014 entering class, whereas 21 black students were enrolled in the fall 2013 entering class.

Rob Schwartz, assistant dean of admissions at UCLA’s law school, said although there was an initial impact on the number of black applicants to the law school after the ban, recent numbers show otherwise.

“We actually had more black applicants for the class entering in the fall of 2013 than we did for the class entering in the fall of 1995,” Schwartz said in an email, referring to the 424 black applicants in 2013 versus the 380 applicants in 1995. He added that applicants now have the option of reporting multiple ethnicities, and the 2013 figure includes applicants who were part black.

Schwartz also said admission rates and application volumes fluctuate widely by year. UCLA law school admitted 21.6 percent of its black applicants to the class entering in the fall of 1995, and in the fall of 2013, the black admission rate was 17.7 percent, according to Schwartz.

“Socioeconomic affirmative action only gets an elite school so far toward racial diversity unless the school substantially cuts back on using test scores and GPAs in admissions,” Yagan said in an email.

Contact Sumaiya Mubarack at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sumaiyamubarack.