Michigan Black college completion falters (with consequences)

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan voters have the Constitutional right to ban the state’s government from using race-specific policies. The immediate implication for Michigan, and other states, is for university admissions polices. So now if the state wants to pass a law allowing children of alumni easier admission to the University of Michigan, it’s a simple act of the legislature; but if they want to consider race in their admissions, they will need to amend the state constitution.

The University of Michigan has been at the center of national affirmative action debates for several decades (at least since I arrived there in 1988). I previously reported that court decisions against the state’s affirmative action policy led to a precipitous decline in Black students entering the University in the 2000s, as shown in this graph:

That’s just the University of Michigan, an important school, but only one. (The New York Times has a graphic showing enrollment trends in a series of states with affirmative action bans.) For the whole state of Michigan, Black college graduation rates fell further behind the national average over the last decade. Here is the percent of Black 25-29 year-olds who have completed college, from 1970 to 2012, nationally versus in Michigan alone, for women (left) and men (right):


Source: 1970-2000 Decennial Censuses and 2010-2012 American Community Survey, via IPUMS.

During the 2000s, the national-Michigan gap widened from 2.3 points to 4.1 points for men, and from 3.4 to 4.8 points for women.

I am not expert in the legal arguments over this, so I can’t analyze the decision (here’s one good take). But regardless of whether it’s bad law, I think it’s bad policy.

Yesterday in a tweet I picked on the new, data-heavy news operations run by (from left to right) David Leonhardt (NY Times Upshot), Ezra Klein (Vox), and Nate Silver (Five Thirty Eight) for having very White-looking staff teams:


I don’t know any more about what goes into their hiring decisions than I do about what goes into University of Michigan admission decisions (and I know they have staff beyond these featured writers). I’m sure they all want talented people with a wide range of perspectives and skills. But the outcome in both the media and college situations is bad. It limits the perspectives presented, undermines progress toward racial-ethnic equality, and contributes to the inertia that stymies the potential of future leaders.


Filed under In the news

10 responses to “Michigan Black college completion falters (with consequences)

  1. I agree with your assessment overall, but I’m always hesitant when an analysis relies entirely on photos to categorize individual people’s race, especially in light of higher rates of self-identification with more than one race and people I know or whose work I’ve read, who’s race I have guessed to be entirely wrong. See for example, Greg Howard Williams, President at U of Cincinnati and author of the book “Life on the Color Line.”


  2. vijay

    “It limits the perspectives presented, undermines progress toward racial-ethnic equality, and contributes to the inertia that stymies the potential of future leaders.”

    Setting the same GPA/ACT/SAT for all admissions does all this?

    I challenge you to have different GRE/GPA scores for graduate admission by race.


  3. Ness Blackbird6pillows

    Is there research demonstrating that affirmative action improves long-term outcomes for participants?


    • Not sure what you mean by “improves long-term outcomes.” It certainly has increased college enrollments, especially in selective universities — and the affirmative action bans have reversed that (see, e.g., http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/REST_a_00170#.U17FTPldVbx). But if the question is, are those college students better off than they would have been without being admitted, I don’t know how we would answer that (though maybe someone has tried).


      • vijay

        Nice Non response. He is asking evidence that being admitted under affirmative action actually helps those admitted. Evidence clearly states that:
        1. Students shift to easier majors
        2. Spend a long time to complete the majors.
        3. Often get stuck with large loans, when admitted to private colleges.
        There is a large body of literature, talking about “mismatch”, and the impact of loans on the students.

        College and graduate school as the only +ve outcome for a large number of students, is a trope and should be retired at the earliest. The university faculty will never do that because it works against their interests, economic and otherwise.


  4. Ness Blackbird

    Yeah. I’ve heard the argument that admitting kids who wouldn’t otherwise have made it into a particular college is a bad idea, because they may not pass without special treatment. Even if they graduate, they may not be qualified in their fields. So, at the end of the day, they’d have been better off if they hadn’t been admitted to a more challenging college. Do you know if there’s any validity to this?


    • Ah, I don’t know why I was’t thinking of that question. Right – I think you’d want this book: The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions, by William G. Bowen & Derek Bok (http://press.princeton.edu/quotes/q6374.html). They say the students benefit (as do the universities). Here’s an article describing the book when it came out: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/09/us/study-strongly-supports-affirmative-action-in-admissions-to-elite-colleges.html.


      • vijay

        I see that you have not actually read this book, That book has no “general” statistics to prove that case. Instead that book was focused on four colleges, Yale, Princeton, Michigan and UNC The students admitted under affirmative action got lower grades and graduate at a(much) lower rate. But upon graduation, they earned 70-85% more than graduates from other colleges. Two things stood out, namely, they continued to enter graduate schools in law and medicine under affirmative action programs, again. The graduates entered AA-friendly jobs like government and academia, at a very high rate.

        The conclusions are laughable, and was something like, graduates from elite colleges earned more money from grads from other colleges. “Finally, the more selective the college, the more likely were blacks who attended it to graduate, obtain advanced degrees and earn high salaries”. does it take a genius to figure this out? Grads from yale and Princeton earn higher salaries?

        The book quickly turns to the use of flowery language that cannot be proved in practice. What the hell does
        “black graduates of elite institutions ”the backbone of the emergent black middle class; their influence extends beyond the workplace.
        ”They can serve as strong threads in a fabric that binds their own community together and binds those communities into the larger social fabric as well,”

        Why would they do all that? what is the evidence they do all that?


        • rk

          i know you’re effectively a troll, but the study that debunks all of your undermatching bs was just published in the AERJ: doi: 10.3102/0002831214544298

          nevermind your (purposeful) misreading of Shape.


Comments welcome (may be moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s