Race, income and college in 25 years: the legacy of separate and unequal schooling

Type Working Paper
Title Race, income and college in 25 years: the legacy of separate and unequal schooling
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
The rate at which racial gaps in pre-collegiate academic achievement can
plausibly be expected to erode going forward is a matter of great interest and much
uncertainty. In her opinion in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, Justice O’Connor takes a
firm stand on this question: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial
preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Our goal
in this paper is to evaluate the plausibility of Justice O’Connor’s forecast. We attempt to
project the elite college applicant pool 25 years from now. Our analysis focuses on two
important margins: First, changes in the black-white relative distribution of income, and
second, narrowing of the test score gap between black and white students with similar
family incomes. Other things being equal, progress on each margin can be expected to
reduce the racial gap in qualifications among students pursuing admission to the most
selective colleges. Under plausible assumptions, projected economic progress will not be
sufficient to yield as much racial diversity as exists currently under a race-sensitive
admissions policy. Simulations under the assumption of increases in the test scores of
black students beyond those deriving from changes in family income yield more
optimistic estimates and we that race-blind rules may approach the black representation
achieved by affirmative action.

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