Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

11

Affirmative action and academic performance in US universities

In this chapter I discuss evidence, first, on graduation rates and, next, on grade-point averages (GPAs) for under-represented ethnic group (UREG) and non-UREG students in US universities. I then go on to review and analyze studies of an issue with important implications for claims made by critics of affirmative action (AA) in admissions to US higher educational institutions: the effect of college/university selectivity on student academic performance.


UREG and non-UREG graduation rates

There is much more evidence available on graduation rates at the undergraduate level than at the graduate level, and the evidence is more plentiful for African Americans than for members of other under-represented groups. Bunzel (1988) was one of the first to draw attention to the relatively low graduation rates of UREG students at major US universities. Bunzel cited figures for the University of California at Berkeley (UC-Berkeley) in the 1980s, according to which 66 per cent of White students could be expected to graduate within five years, whereas the corresponding figure for Hispanic Americans is 41 per cent and for Blacks 27 per cent.

Thernstrom and Thernstrom (1997:391, Table 2) have provided more comprehensive data on time trends of college attendance as well as graduation rates by Blacks and Whites in the US. During the three decades from 1965 to 1995-years in which preferential admissions via AA to Black students became widespread-the percentage of Blacks attending colleges rose from 15 per cent to 45 per cent, as the percentage of Whites increased from 26 per cent to 55 per cent. The percentage of Black students actually completing four years of college rose only from 7 per cent to 15 per cent, as compared to an increase from 13 per cent to 26 per cent for Whites. This implies that the fraction of undergraduate students actually completing four years of college fell from 45 per cent to 34 per cent for Blacks, while remaining close to 50 per cent for Whites. 1

Another body of evidence highlighted by Thernstrom and Thernstrom addresses differential performance by Blacks and Whites on the Scholastic Aptitude (or Assessment) Test (SAT), the standardized test widely utilized by

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