The Politics of Admissions in California

Gail Heriot:

This essay discusses the aftermath of Proposition 209, which prohibits (among other things) discrimination and preferential treatment based on race or ethnicity in public education. As its proponents predicted, when campuses of the University of California stopped engaging in race-preferential admissions, the number of African-American and Hispanic students decreased at the most-highly ranked campuses in the system, but they increased on many of the other campuses. The essay discusses in particular results from the University of California at San Diego, where the performance of under-represented minority students improved dramatically following the implementation of Proposition 209. For example, immediately prior to the implementation of Proposition 209, only one black student had a freshman-year GPA of 3.5 or better — a single black honor student in a freshman class of 3,268. In contrast, 20 percent of the white students in the class had such a GPA. The next year, with Proposition 209, a full 20 percent of black students could boast a GPA of 3.5 or better after their first year. Similarly, immediately prior to Proposition 209, 15 percent of black students and 17 percent of American Indian were in academic jeopardy (defined as a GPA of less than 2.0), while only 4% of white students were. Immediately after Proposition 209’s implementation, the under-represented minority failure rate collapsed. The difference between racial groups all but evaporated, with the black and American Indian rate falling to 6 percent.