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54 Soc. Probs. 99 (2007)
The Effects of America's Three Affirmative Action Programs on Academic Performance

handle is hein.journals/socprob54 and id is 101 raw text is: The Effects of America's Three Affirmative
Action Programs on Academic Performance
DOUGLAS S. MASSEY, Princeton University
MARGARITA MOONEY, Princeton University
Although affirmative action programs for minority students form just one of several criteria for preferential
admissions to American colleges and universities, little research has compared the impact of other large affir-
mative actions  programs such as those for athletes and legacies. Using data from the National Longitudinal
Survey of Freshmen (NLSF), a sample of nearly 4,000 students in 28 elite American colleges and universities, we
develop models that test claims about the effects of affirmative action-namely mismatch hypothesis and stereo-
type threat-on college performance in three groups: minorities, athletes, and legacies. First, we estimate models
predicting two direct and indirect effects suggested by stereotype threat: hours studied per week and the degree of
psychological performance burden reported by students. Next we include these direct and indirect measures of
stereotype threat and the mismatch hypothesis on grades earned through the end of sophomore year and the
likelihood of leaving school by spring of junior year. We do not find strong evidence for the mismatch hypothesis
as applied to minorities and athletes, although legacies who enjoyed a greater admissions bonus earned lower
grades. Minorities attending institutions that practice greater affirmative action were less likely to drop out but
did report lower grades. We also find that legacies and athletes who attend a school that practices institutional
affirmative action are indeed more likely to drop out of school. Keywords: affirmative action, higher education,
stereotype threat, legacy students, student athletes.
Affirmative action in favor of underrepresented minorities has been debated by scholars,
the media, and the public for many years. Attention crested in 2003 with the Supreme
Court's Bollinger decisions, which reaffirmed the constitutionality of using race as one factor,
among several, in college admission decisions. Less controversial have been two other prefer-
ential admission programs also in widespread use, one granting an admissions bonus to appli-
cants with athletic skills and the other conferring preferential treatment on the children of
alumni, commonly known as legacy admissions. Even less attention has focused on smaller
preferential admissions programs having to do with region, class, and rural origin. As these
various categories suggest, entry into selective institutions of higher education has never
been decided purely on academic criteria-before or after minority affirmative action came
into effect (Fetter 1995; Zwick 2002).
The term affirmative action comes from the legal requirement that institutional officials
take concrete, identifiable, and positive (in other words, affirmative) steps to include histori-
cally excluded groups in their selection pools and to adopt mechanisms that enure their repre-
sentation among those ultimately chosen (Skrentny 1996). We realize, of course, that legacy
admissions and athletic recruitment originate from very different motivations, but here we
label them as affirmative because they, too, bring non-academic criteria positively to bear in
the admissions process. In attaching the label affirmative action to legacy and athletic admis-
sions, we are being deliberately provocative in order to underscore the fact that minorities are
not the only social group to benefit from a thumb on the scale in academic admissions.
Direct correspondence to: Douglas S. Massey, 239 Wallace Hall, Office of Population Research, Princeton University,
Princeton, NJ 08544. E-mail: dmassey@princeton.edu.
Social Problems, Vol. 54. Issue 1, pp. 99-117, ISSN 0037-7791, electronic ISSN 1533-8533.
© 2007 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photo-
copy or reproduce article content through the U niversity of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.
ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo/asp. DOI: 10.1525/sp.2007.54.1.99.

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