For at least two decades following the 1978 Bakke decision that first introduced "diversity" as a "compelling state interest" permitting race-based preferences in admissions, most elite colleges and universities boldly applied racial double-standards in determining whom to admit. In analyzing admissions data from nearly 70 public undergraduate and graduate programs, my Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) found that the schools we studied routinely admitted black and Hispanic students with substantially lower grades and test scores. In many instances, being black or Hispanic did not appear simply to be one among many factors weighed by the schools, but the decisive factor. In a separate study, George Mason University professor David J. Armor found that at the University of Virginia in 2003, a black student was 106 times more likely to be admitted than a white student with the same grades and test scores, while at William and Mary Law School, the odds ratio favoring black students was 267 to 1. But in the wake of Grutter and Gratz, schools are struggling with how much weight they can give race or ethnicity without running afoul of the law.
The rollback of affirmative action won't necessarily mean fewer opportunities for blacks and Hispanics, however. More blacks and Hispanics are going to college than at any time in our nation's history. Data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics show that blacks and Hispanics constitute nearly one quarter of the undergraduate population at four-year institutions and 36 percent of community college enrollment. Over the decade 1993-2003, black enrollment in higher education grew from 10 percent to 13 percent of combined undergraduate and graduate students. Hispanics posted even more impressive gains over the same period, from 4 percent of all college students to 10 percent. The decline in race-based admissions suggests more of these students may have ended up at colleges and universities that better matched their preparation levels, schools where skin color was no longer the ticket for admission, and where they could compete on an equal footing with their white and Asian peers. That is certainly the case in California, which banned racial preferences in college admissions at state schools in 1996. Even without the noblesse oblige of a Supreme Court justice to place a thumb on the scale on their behalf, blacks and Hispanics are demonstrating they are capable of succeeding the old-fashioned way -- through hard work and their own efforts.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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