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Title: ADMIT OR DENY: The Perception of Race in Higher Education Admissions
Authors: Batel, Samantha
Advisors: Todorov, Alexander
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2013
Abstract: In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on the future of higher education in Fisher vs. University of Texas. Back in 2008, 18-year-old Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin (UT) after she was denied admission to the university, claiming that her rejection was the result of racial discrimination. Although a consensus in the lower courts ruled in UT’s favor, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 2012. This decision marked the Court’s willingness to reconsider affirmative action policies that it had ruled constitutional in 1978 and again in 2003. One justice has recused herself, four are likely to favor Fisher, and three are likely to favor UT. The decision thus comes down to the swing vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Abandoning affirmative action would devastate the ability of institutions of higher education to create a racially and ethnically diverse student body. Affirmative action, originally designed to benefit African Americans, has become a way for selective colleges and universities to create a class of undergraduates from varied backgrounds with distinct experiences and viewpoints. Indeed, race-conscious admissions are constitutional because of the compelling educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body. A race-neutral process will sacrifice these educational benefits by failing to admit a diverse class. Race-based admission policies, however, are perceived to disadvantage some while helping others. It is often claimed that Asian Americans suffer from affirmative action, for their acceptance rates are lower than African American students despite their stronger academic performance as a racial group. Indeed, after California eliminated affirmative action in the late 1990s, the number of Asian American students admitted to the University of California at Berkeley increased while the number of admitted African American and other minority students fell. Similarly, in her brief to the Supreme Court, Fisher argued that she was more qualified than many of the minority candidates admitted to UT. In its response, however, UT stated that over a hundred minority candidates that were more qualified than Fisher were denied admission; race, consequently, was not the reason for her rejection. Opinions on the use of race in admissions thus reflect perceptions of the process. To investigate how students perceive the role of race in admissions, I conducted an experiment with Princeton University undergraduates. I found that students perceive race to benefit African Americans without disadvantaging Asian or Caucasian students. Although these findings challenge Berkeley’s acceptance rates after California eliminated affirmative action, a closer analysis of the university’s enrollment figures reveals a marginal gain for Asian Americans at a huge expense for African American and other minority students. Eliminating race-conscious admissions thus did more harm than good. The Supreme Court should consequently uphold affirmative action in Fisher. Admissions statistics reveal the devastating impact that race-neutral admissions will have on the enrollment of underrepresented minority students and participants in my experiment did not perceive race-conscious policies to negatively affect overrepresented students. Indeed, race-based policies allow colleges and universities to use a flexible and holistic process that considers applicants in their totality. If institutions of higher education are not afforded this ability, both students in the admission process and on campus will suffer.
Extent: 122 pages
Access Restrictions: Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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