What Colleges Look Like in a Post-Affirmative Action World

How does banning affirmative action affect enrollment at universities? We explored states that banned affirmative action to see how colleges and universities were affected.

With the recent news that the Justice Department is considering pushing back against affirmative action, we explored the effects of this controversial policy. Currently, eight states have banned affirmative action through executive orders or voter propositions. We examined undergraduate student enrollment trends to discern what could happen nationwide if affirmative action is banned. We learned:

  • Asian students do not see increased enrollment at top universities with the repeal of Affirmative Action
  • Black and Hispanic enrollment at prestigious institutions often takes a hit following affirmative action bans
  • Overall enrollment for Black and Hispanic students may not be drastically affected as minorities enroll in alternative universities

Affirmative action strives to correct the historical effects of discrimination — often racial discrimination. Regarding college admissions, it guarantees institutions better represent the populations they serve. President Kennedy first established affirmative action in 1961, issuing an executive order mandating projects with federal funding to take “affirmative action” to ensure their hiring was not racially biased.

Our analysis compares undergraduate enrollment of racial groups before and after major changes in the application of affirmative action. Though affirmative action attempts to better represent a community’s racial composition in its student body, universities must balance a host of issues in their admissions processes including legacy admissions, athletic scholarships, and tuition or revenue per student (especially for international or out-of-state students).


In Michigan, Black and Hispanic students were negatively impacted by the initial limitations imposed on affirmative action and the subsequent repeal. The largest effects took place in the more prestigious schools. Ann Arbor is the flagship campus and the highest-ranking among the three University of Michigan schools. In the three years following the limitations on affirmative action at the University of Michigan in 2003, the flagship Ann Arbor campus saw a 26% reduction in Black enrollment and a 15% reduction in Hispanic enrollment. The Flint and Dearborn campuses saw minority enrollment skyrocket. Asian enrollment at the Ann Arbor campus remained steady during this period, perhaps due to disproportionately high representation, which hovers around 12%.

Michigan’s history with affirmative action is complicated. In 2003, the US Supreme Court in ruled in Gratz v. Bollinger that the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program, which granted an automatic 20 points towards undergraduate admission for underrepresented minorities, was unconstitutional. However, in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court ruled that the University of Michigan Law School’s narrowly tailored policy, which also considered race, was constitutional and appropriate to “further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2 — which prohibited affirmative action by public institutions — by a margin of 58% to 42%.

Following the Supreme Court decision in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), Black enrollment at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor dropped significantly. In 2003, 8.0% of undergraduate students at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor were Black. Three years later, in 2006, that percentage had fallen to 6.7%, a 16% drop. Hispanic representation at Ann Arbor was 4.8% in 2003 and dipped slightly to 4.7% in 2006.

Overall, in the University of Michigan system, the Black undergraduate percentage feel from 8.2% in 2003 to 7.8% in 2006. At the Flint campus, the percentage of Black undergraduates actually increased from 10.3% in 2003 to 11.6% in 2006. The Black population also slightly increased at the Dearborn campus – from 7.1% in 2003 to 9.0% in 2006.

Asian enrollment remained steady during this time at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor at 12.6% in 2003, 12.0% in 2006, and 12% in 2009. Asian enrollment in the University of Michigan system dropped from 9.9% in 2003, to 9.5% in 2006 and 9.4% in 2009. Asians were already overrepresented before the ban on affirmative action. Asian students made up just 2.3% of high school graduates in Michigan in 2004, and 2.6% of graduates in 2006.


In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, banning affirmative action in public colleges. Asian students were overrepresented at the University of California Berkeley — they accounted for 14.5% of high school graduates, but 39.4% of undergraduates in 1996. This rate was relatively unchanged 5 years after the passage of Proposition 209: 40.6% of Berkeley undergraduates in 2001 were Asian. Asian enrollment in the overall University of California system also remained steady at 34.4% in 1996 and 35.2% in 2001.

The two highest-ranking universities, UCLA and UC Berkeley, saw a drop in enrollment for Black and Hispanic students following the affirmative action ban, while other UC schools saw little to no change. UCLA and Berkeley have the two highest average SAT scores in the UC system at 1330 and 1382, respectively, in 2014. At UC Berkeley, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment proceeded to drop from 13% in 1996 to 9.1% in 2001. Black enrollment dropped from 5.6% in 1996 to 3.7% in 2001. At UCLA, Black enrollment fell from 6% to 3.7% over the following five years. Similarly, the Hispanic enrollment also fell from 17% to 14%.

In the overall UC system however, these drops were much less severe. The population fell from 3.9% for Black students in 1996 to 3.0% in 2001, and from 13.7% in 1996 for Hispanic students to 12.6% in 2001. With UCLA and UC Berkeley excluded, the UC System saw black enrollment fall from 2.9% to 2.6% and the Hispanic enrollment inch up from 12.8% to 12.9% in the 5 years following Proposition 209.


Washington voters passed Initiative 200 in 1998, prohibiting “preferential treatment” based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, education and contracting. It took effect on December 3rd, 1998.

At the University of Washington (Seattle), Black enrollment fell from 3.0% in 1998 to 2.6% in 2003. Hispanic enrollment in the same period fell from 4.1% to 3.5%.

Black enrollment at Washington State University was 2.3% in 1998 and 2.7% in 2003. Hispanic enrollment increased from 3.5% to 3.8% over the same 5 year period.

Overall, across the Washington State and University of Washington colleges, the effect of the affirmative action ban was relatively muted. Black enrollment was 2.8% in 1998 and 2.7% in 2003. Hispanic enrollment was 3.8% in 1998 and 3.5% in 2003.


Initiative 424 passed with 58% of the vote in 2008. The measure banned affirmative action at the state level. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Hispanic enrollment was 3.5% in 2008 and 4.7% in 2013, showing no decrease after the passage of Initiative 424. Similarly, black enrollment was unchanged (2.4% vs. 2.4%) over the same period.


In 2010, Arizona passed Proposition 107 which banned government-sponsored affirmative action.

Hispanic enrollment was already on the rise, and continued to rise from 19.9% in 2010 to 25.4% in 2014. At the University of Arizona – Tempe, Hispanic enrollment increased overall from 17.9% to 18.8% from 2010 to 2014. Black enrollment dropped from 5.2% to 3.9% over the same period.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, House Bill 623 took effect on Jan 1, 2012 banning affirmative action in college admissions.

At the University of New Hampshire’s main campus, Black enrollment included 1.3% of undergraduates in 2012 and, in 2014, that number was largely unchanged at 1.2%. In 2012, Hispanics were 2.5% of undergraduates and that number had increased to 3.1% by 2014.


Oklahoma voters passed the Oklahoma Affirmative Action Ban Amendment on November 6, 2012, ending affirmative action in college admissions. Because Oklahoma’s affirmative action repeal was so recent, there is no available data to judge the effects of the ban in the state.


The “One Florida” initiative issued by Governor Jeb Bush on November 9th, 1999 in Executive Order 99-281, prohibited affirmative action in state hiring and public university admissions.

At the University of Florida, black enrollment increased from 7.3% in 1999 to 8.7% in 2004. Hispanic undergraduate enrollment also increased from 10.5% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2004.

At Florida State University, black enrollment dropped from 12.3% in 1999 to 11.7% in 2004. Hispanic enrollment at FSU increased from 7.6% in 1999 to 10.5% in 2004.




Use our tool to find the racial composition of your school. Are you surprised by the results?


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