Race and College Admissions Around the Country


  • After twice being denied admission to the UC Davis Medical School despite having test scores higher than many of the minority applicants, Allan Bakke sued the school in a landmark case charging reverse discrimination. UC Davis appealed the case to the US Supreme Court. In 1978, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bakke, stating that universities could no longer use two separate admissions processes based on race, but left open the practice of considering race in admissions to promote diversity.
  • In 1996, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified a University of Texas Law School admissions policy (Hopwood v. Texas) that sought certain percentages of black and Latino students. Hopwood v. Texas, unlike the Bakke case, left no room for racial preferences in the admissions process in those states covered by the Fifth Circuit-Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
  • In 1997, in response to the rollback in race-based admissions, Texas signed into law legislation that requires the state universities to admit all applicants ranked in the top 10% of their high school class.7


  • In California in 1996, Proposition 209 banned racial preferences in university admissions' processes.
  • In its first year without race-based preferences in admissions, UC Berkeley accepted its least diverse freshman class in 17 years, admitting 56% fewer blacks and 49% fewer Latinos than in 1997.
  • In March 1999, the University of California Board of Regents voted to accept a proposal similar to that in Texas to admit the top 4% of high school students to the University of California system.8


  • Racial preference in admissions is now being challenged in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan claiming its affirmative action program discriminates by applying different test score standards to different races.

1 1999 College-Bound Seniors National Report, The College Board (1999).
2 Ibid.
3 www.fairtest.org/facts/satfact.htm, National Center for Fair & Open Testing , Inc.
4 1999 College-Bound Seniors National Report, The College Board (1999).
5 NACAC Admission Trends Survey, National Association for College Admissions Counseling (1999).
6 Nicholas Lemann, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1999).
7 Jodi Wilgoren, "Texas' Top 10% Law Appears to Preserve College Racial Mix," The New York Times (November 24, 1999) A1, A18.
8 Patrick Healy, "U. Of California to Admit Top 4% from Every High School," The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 2, 1999) A36.