Black Students Excel at Top Colleges

Affirmative action policies in college admissions are currently occupying the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. These policies typically treat black (or other less advantaged) applicants differently, perhaps by granting admission with a lower SAT score. One of the arguments against affirmative action is the “mismatch” theory, invoked by Justice Scalia’s recent oral arguments: “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well,” he said, as opposed to “a slower-track school where they do well.”

[Related: HBCUs Are Still The Solution]

In fact, the evidence for mismatch points to very weak, if any effects, which are in any case dwarfed by the large positive effects of attending a more selective college.

Black students are more likely to graduate at more selective colleges

Black graduation rates are consistently higher in more selective colleges:


For students entering the 500 most selective four-year colleges and universities in 2001, the correlation between the black graduation rate and standardized SAT/ACT scores is 0.59. More selective colleges have much higher black graduation rates.

Comparing students with similar test scores, black students at the most selective schools are more likely to graduate and earn STEM credits than their peers at less selective schools, with no difference in grades, according to data from the Department of Education.

The black-white gap in graduation does not increase with selectivity

Another way to test for mismatch is to compare black and white outcomes at the same school. If black students are being mismatched into top colleges, there should be a larger black-white gap in graduation rates at selective colleges. That is not the case. There is in fact a negative and insignificant relationship between graduation rate gaps and selectivity:

Students with low SAT scores earn big salaries after graduating from top colleges

What about earnings after college?

Read more at the Brookings Institution.