Changes in Levels of Affirmative Action in College Admissions in Response to Statewide Bans and Judicial Rulings

Published in:
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
March 2014
vol. 36 no. 1

Grant H. Blume, University of Washington
Mark C. Long, University of Washington


Affirmative action in college admissions was effectively banned in Texas by the Hopwood ruling in 1997, by voter referenda in California and Washington in 1996 and 1998, and by administrative decisions in Florida in 1999. The Hopwood and Johnson rulings also had possible applicability to public colleges throughout Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in the Grutter and Gratz cases reaffirmed but limited the legal basis for affirmative action in colleges. This article uses nationally representative data on the admissions decisions of high school students in 1992 and 2004 to estimate the magnitude of the change in affirmative action in college admission decisions (i.e., how these policy changes affected the relative likelihood of admission of minority and nonminority applicants). We find substantial declines in levels of affirmative action practiced by highly selective colleges in the states affected by bans and the Hopwood and Johnson rulings, and no evidence of declines outside these states (and thus modest and generally insignificant declines nationwide). We show how the decline in affirmative action in these particular states affects not only students in these states but also those students who live in adjacent states, particularly when the adjacent states lack highly selective colleges.