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The Effect of Race-Based Admissions in Public Universities: Debunking the Myths about Hopwood and Proposition 209


Alisa Hicklin is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, Norman.


In the debates over the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding race-based university admissions, speculation has focused on how affirmative action affects minority undergraduate enrollments. This paper uses a rational choice framework to test the conventional wisdom about the effect of race-based admissions, focusing on the landmark Hopwood judicial decision and California’s Proposition 209. This study offers more generalizable findings by incorporating all public universities bound under Hopwood and Proposition 209 using data spanning 1990–2000. Findings indicate that the effect of race-based admissions standards is not what might have been predicted: Shifts in minority enrollments that are attributable to affirmative action hinge on university-specific characteristics—namely, the level of selectivity.