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Achievement, Race Gaps, and Affirmative Action: A Structural Policy Analysis of US College Admissions


  • Brent Hickman

    (University of Chicago)


I estimate a model of academic achievement and college admissions to study the implications of Affirmative Action (AA) in the US college market. I compare various college admissions policies (i.e., allocation mechanisms) in terms of three criteria: (i) the induced level of overall academic achievement, (ii) the racial achievement gap, and (iii) the college enrollment gap. To estimate the model I first develop a method for measuring AA practices in the entire college market using aggregate data on admissions and test-scores. Then I recover distributions over student heterogeneity using techniques borrowed from the empirical auctions literature. These estimates facilitate a set of counterfactual experiments to compare the effects of the estimated US policy with alternatives not observed in the data: color-blind admissions and quotas. AA policies as implemented in the US significantly diminish the enrollment gap, but at the cost of lower academic effort on average, and particularly among talented minorities. A ranking between the color-blind rule and the US policy is ambiguous, but a quota system produces a substantial improvement on all 3 criteria, relative to both alternatives. However, quotas are illegal in the US and cannot be implemented as such. Nevertheless, I propose a variation on the AA policy already in place that is outcome-equivalent to a quota, is simple to implement, and automatically adjusts according to the amount of asymmetry across demographic groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Brent Hickman, 2011. "Achievement, Race Gaps, and Affirmative Action: A Structural Policy Analysis of US College Admissions," 2011 Meeting Papers 1424, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:sed011:1424

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