The Partial Deinstitutionalization of Affirmative Action in U.S. Higher Education, 1988 to 2014

Daniel Hirschman, Ellen Berrey

Sociological Science, August 28, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a18

Since the 1990s, affirmative action opponents have targeted colleges’ and universities’ race-conscious admissions policies and secured bans on the practice in eight states. Although scholarly and media attention has focused on these dynamics at a handful of elite institutions, little is known about race-conscious admissions across the broader field of higher education. We provide a descriptive, quantitative account of how different types of colleges and universities responded to this political context. Through analysis of almost 1,000 selective colleges and universities, we find a dramatic shift in stated organizational policy starting in the mid-1990s. In 1994, 60 percent of selective institutions publicly declared that they considered race in undergraduate admissions; by 2014, just 35 percent did. This decline varied depending on status (competitiveness) and sector (public or private). Race-conscious admissions remain the stated policy of almost all of the most elite public and private institutions. The retreat from race-conscious admissions occurs largely among schools lower in the status hierarchy: very competitive public institutions and competitive public and private institutions. These patterns are not explained by implementation of state-level bans. We suggest that the anti–affirmative action movement had a diffuse impact whose effects varied across different strata of American higher education.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Daniel Hirschman: Department of Sociology, Brown University

Ellen Berrey: Department of Sociology, University of Toronto

Acknowledgements: We thank Prabhdeep Kehal for his excellent research assistance and instructive comments. Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur, Ronit Dinovitzer, Steve Hoffman, Ashley Rubin, and Terri Taylor provided feedback that improved this article. Research funding was provided by Brown University’s Program in Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations.

  • Citation: Hirschman, Daniel, and Ellen Berrey. 2017. “The Partial Deinstitutionalization of Affirmative Action in U.S. Higher Education, 1988 to 2014.” Sociological Science 4: 449-468.
  • Received: June 21, 2017
  • Accepted: July 28, 2017
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a18

, ,

Reactions to this article are closed.