Ten years ago, the abolition of affirmative action was widely expected to transform the racial mix of California’s top universities and turn them into less diverse places. The first prediction turned out to be right; the second did not.
In 1995, the University of California’s eight undergraduate colleges enrolled 945 black students. In 1998, the first year when the colour-blind regime was fully enforced, they enrolled 739—a drop of 22% in a period when the number of new students rose by more than a tenth. In the two most prestigious colleges, Berkeley and UCLA, the number of blacks fell by 47%.
The proportion of black students has never returned to the level of the mid-1990s. But the University of California’s campuses have become more diverse anyway. Last year, 15% of newly admitted students were Hispanic and an astonishing 41% were Asian. Whites, who were supposed to benefit most from the demise of affirmative action, comprised 34% of the new intake—a smaller proportion than in 1995, and less than their share of California’s high-school graduates.
Asians are packing California’s lecture halls partly because they do so well in tests, and partly because they are less welcome elsewhere. Elite universities on the east coast continue to favour black and Hispanic candidates. They also favour the children of donors and alumni, most of whom are white. Last year, 47% of whites and 46% of blacks who were offered a place at the University of California took it up, compared with 65% of Asians.
California’s universities are at least providing a route to the upper-middle class for an immigrant group that suffers discrimination in other parts of America.