December 2014

IZA DP No. 8733: Efficacy vs. Equity: What Happens When States Tinker with College Admissions in a Race-Blind Era?

published in: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, June 2016, 38(2): 336-363

College admissions officers face a rapidly changing policy environment where court decisions have limited the use of affirmative action. At the same time, there is mounting evidence that commonly used signals of college readiness, such as the SAT/ACTs, are subject to race and socioeconomic bias. Our study investigates the efficacy and equity of college admissions criteria by estimating the effect of multiple measures of college readiness on freshman college grade point average and four-year graduation. Importantly, we take advantage of a unique institutional feature of the Texas higher education system to control for selection into admissions and enrollment. We find that SAT/ACT scores, high school exit exams, and advanced coursework are predictors of student success in college. However, when we simulate changes in college enrollment and college outcomes with additional admissions criteria, we find that adding SAT/ACT or high school exit exam criteria to a rank-based admissions policy significantly decreases enrollment among minorities and other groups, with the most negative effects generated by the SAT/ACT, while inducing only minimal gains in college GPA and four-year graduation rates.