Law School Admissions


Can Socioeconomic Status Substitute for Race in Affirmative Action College Admissions Policies? Evidence from a Simulation Model

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



diversity, admissions, affirmative action, socioeconomic status, race


This paper simulates a system of socioeconomic status (SES)−based affirmative action in college admissions and examines the extent to which it can produce racial diversity in selective colleges. Using simulation models, we investigate the potential relative effects of race- and/or SES-based affirmative action policies, alongside targeted, race-based recruitment, on the racial and socioeconomic distribution of students in colleges. These simulations suggest three important patterns: (1) neither SES-based affirmative action nor race recruiting policies on their own can reproduce levels of racial diversity achieved by race-based affirmative action; however, SES-based affirmative action in combination with targeted recruitment, although likely expensive, shows the potential to yield racial diversity levels comparable to race-based affirmative action; (b) the use of affirmative action policies by some colleges reduces the diversity of similar-quality colleges that do not have such policies; (c) overall, the combination of SES-based affirmative action and race recruiting results in slightly fewer Black and Hispanic students that are academically overmatched than under race-based affirmative action, but the schools that use the combination policy also see an overall reduction in the academic achievement of the students they enroll.