As the Supreme Court weighs a case that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions, California offers one glimpse of a future without it.
California was one of the first states to abolish affirmative action, after voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996. Across the University of California system, Latinos fell to 12 percent of newly enrolled state residents in the mid-1990s from more than 15 percent, and blacks declined to 3 percent from 4 percent. At the most competitive campuses, at Berkeley and Los Angeles, the decline was much steeper.
Eventually, the numbers rebounded. Until last fall, 25 percent of new students were Latino, reflecting the booming Hispanic population, and 4 percent were black. A similar pattern of decline and recovery followed at other state universities that eliminated race as a factor in admissions.
If the Supreme Court justices, who are expected to rule in the coming weeks on a case involving the University of Texas at Austin, decide to curtail or abolish the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions nationwide, then the experience here and in other states that have outlawed affirmative action in college admissions decisions — including Florida, Michigan and Washington — could point to new ways for public universities to try to compose a racially and economically diverse student body.