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June 13, 2013 12:31 PM Why the Texas Affirmative Action Case Won’t Matter

By Daniel Luzer

One of the Supreme Court decisions education policy analysts are awaiting is the one on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case in which two white women are suing Texas’s flagship university, arguing that the school’s affirmative action program—and therefor their rejection for admission—constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case has important implications for affirmative action in college admissions but, as Ben Wildavsky of Education Sector explains, the decision won’t matter at all for the vast majority of American colleges:

If the Supreme Court strikes down or severely limits affirmative action in college admissions when it rules in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, don’t expect its decision to radically transform the landscape of U.S. college admissions. The reason? The court’s ruling will surely be influential, but as a practical matter, affirmative action is mostly irrelevant to admissions policies at the great majority of colleges or for the great majority of students. Most postsecondary institutions take almost all comers, so on those campuses racial and ethnic differences in applicants’ grades and test scores rarely come into play.

America’s really selective universities, of course, have many more applicants than they can admit, and have to make decisions based on tiny differences in test scores and factors like race and legacy status. But most colleges, 70 to 80 percent, according to a 1998 book by former Princeton president William Bowen and former Harvard president Derek Bok, aren’t at all selective, and admit virtually anyone who applies.

In fact, the affirmative action decision won’t even matter much at the University of Texas at Austin, because, as I pointed out before, some 92 percent of the undergraduate students admitted to the school came in via the university’s Top 10 program, which grants automatic admission to anyone in the state who graduated in the upper 10 percent of his high school class. Race, or even grades and standardized test scores, have nothing to do with the admissions decisions.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer