Study: Affirmative Action Does Not Hurt Graduation Rates and Post-Graduation Success

The following is text from a press release issued by William Kidder of UC Riverside on April 1, 2014.

reportA new critique of the 2012 book “Mismatch” by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr. calls into question the validity of the book’s conclusion that affirmative action causes more harm than good.

“Based upon a sweep of the overall literature, it is clear that Sander and Taylor have cherry-picked data and mischaracterized other research to suit their position,” said William Kidder, an administrator at UC Riverside, one of the nation’s most diverse public research universities.

Kidder and co-author Angela Onwuachi-Willig, a law professor at the University of Iowa (and a visiting professor at the Yale Law School), provide a comprehensive analysis of both the studies cited in the Sander and Taylor book as well as other important works. Their paper has just been published in the Texas Law Review.

“During the oral argument in the pending Schuette U.S. Supreme Court case, some Justices appeared sympathetic to the State of Michigan’s argument that “mismatch” harms those who have been admitted to college under affirmative action,” said Kidder. “Our review of the cumulative social science, including the best peer-reviewed studies, do not support the mismatch hypothesis with respect to university graduation rates and subsequent earnings in the labor market.”

In addition to synthesizing the social science studies, Kidder and Onwuachi-Willig looked at the recent graduation rates of nearly two hundred thousand black and Latino students at one hundred U.S. research intensive universities. At the top twenty universities, there is only a five point gap between African American and white graduation rates (89% versus 94%). This gap grows to twelve points in the middle group of universities (ranked #41-60) and fourteen points at the twenty least selective universities (ranked #81-100).

Professor Onwuachi-Willig said, “The evidence shows that pushing more African American and Latino students to less selective institutions tends to depress their overall degree attainment.” She added, “One of the reasons the mismatch hypothesis doesn’t add up is that success in college is about more than a student’s test scores and grades; it is about the institutional resources, support structures and climate on a college campus.”

Sander and Taylor argue that “selection effects” tend to “skew the analysis” in favor of the more elite universities. But Kidder and Onwuachi-Willig point to numerous high-quality studies that address selection effects with a variety of controls, yet fail to confirm the mismatch hypothesis.

Richard Lempert, the Eric Stein Distinguished University Professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, said of the review by Kidder and Onwuachi-Willig, “Their review is the most up-to-date and complete synthesis of the empirical literature assessing affirmative action. On issue after issue they show how Sander and Taylor either cherry-picked the relevant literature and data to support their hypothesis or were unaware of it. The review is must reading for those who are interested in what social science can tell us about affirmative action as well as for anyone who has read Sander and Taylor’s book or been exposed by press accounts to its arguments.”

Lempert was one of eleven distinguished empirical scholars who filed a brief in the recent Fisher v. University of Texas Supreme Court case, concluding that Sander and Taylor fail to satisfy basic standards of good social science research.

The piece by Kidder and Onwuachi-Willig, available here, is the first lengthy academic review of Sander and Taylor’s book, in contrast to the many short reviews published previously.

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