As affirmative action loses political feasibility, many universities have implemented race-neutral alternatives like top percent policies and holistic review to increase enrollment among disadvantaged students. I study these policies’ application, admission, and enrollment effects using University of California administrative data. UC’s affirmative action and top percent policies increased underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment by over 20 percent and less than 4 percent, respectively. Holistic review increases implementing campuses’ URM enrollment by about 7 percent. Top percent policies and holistic review have negligible effects on lower-income enrollment, while race-based affirmative action modestly increased enrollment among very low-income students. These findings highlight the enrollment gaps between affirmative action and its most common race-neutral alternatives and reveal that available policies do not substantially affect universities’ socioeconomic composition.
Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.