Lottery Admissions Won’t Increase Racial Diversity at Selective Universities
But lottery-eligible student pools include more middle-class students and fewer affluent students. Plus, some peculiar data on Asian students.
A hot new paper was just published this week in the journal Educational Researcher (it’s open access, download the paper here, and supplemental material here) covered by the big higher education outlets including The Chronicle, Inside Higher Ed, and Higher Ed Dive. The paper takes a stab at understanding whether lottery admissions to moderately and highly selective universities would increase diversity of the student bodies.
So, do lotteries increase racial diversity? Nope. Not even a little.
But do lotteries increase other kinds of diversity. Also, not really.
A Rundown of the Racial Data
The paper details two main sets of analyses using national data sets to understand the impact of lottery admissions across key demographic groups of gender, race, and income. The first simply compares the observed data we already have from moderately and highly selective institutions to the total lottery-eligible pool of students. Lottery-eligible is defined as meeting either (1) a SAT/ACT percentile cutoff (Table 1), (2) a GPA cutoff (Table 2), or (3) a combined SAT/ACT and GPA cutoff (Table 3). The tables of these data are shown below.
A few notable observations. Under all cutoff criteria the lottery-eligible proportion of all racial minorities decrease, including Asian students (a point to note for later). This coincides with a massive increase in the proportion of white lottery-eligible students.
The simulation analyses the authors conducted basically pulled 1,000 random samples from the lottery-eligible students to calculate what the average student body could look like under a theoretical lottery admission model. The results for Black (Figure 1) and Latino/a (Figure 2) show significant decreases for both groups under a lottery system. The proportion of Black students at selective universities (figure shown below) would drop a couple percentage points, on average, with drops of 5-10 percentage points for Latino/a students at these universities, on average (figure not shown).
What is most odd about these data to me is with regard to Asian students. For anyone following higher education news, it’s well known that Asian students should theoretically be higher proportions of the student body if admissions were based solely on test scores and GPA, with numerous lawsuits in recent years of Asian student groups suing high-profile institutions for racial discrimination in admissions (with little luck).
This is why I find it odd that in Tables 1-3, the lottery-eligible proportion of Asian students decreases across the board, but the simulation models show a substantial increase in Asian students, as shown in Figure S3, below. I can find no mention of this in the article, nor can I think of why this is the case. Comment below if you have ideas – I really want to understand why the proportion of Asian students would increase “drastically” above observed levels in the simulation models (see Figure S3) given that the proportion of lottery-eligible Asian students decreases (see Tables 1-3). None of the other groups assessed in the paper follow this pattern.
There is also the notable increase of women and corresponding decrease of men in the lottery-eligible groups, which is concerning given the continued decrease of men in higher education.
A Rundown of the Income Data
On to income. As the authors note, as does each of the media outlet articles I linked to at the top, the eligible proportion of low-income students (defined here as <$35,000 USD), generally decreases. However, what none of the articles mention is the potential bump that middle class students could possibly get under a lottery system. For students with household incomes between $35,000 and $115,000, the lottery-eligible proportions increase far more than the low-income students decrease. What this also means is that the proportion of lottery-eligible affluent students (>$115,000) decreases by around 10 percentage points compared to observed levels.
My reading of this is that lottery admissions could possibly lead to a somewhat more equitable distribution of students across the income spectrum, with small decreases of low-income students, but proportionately large decreases of high-income students. However, it’s hard to know exactly what the implications are for the middle class and affluent students since the authors did not do the more informative simulation analyses on these groups; they only did simulations for low-income students, which shows about a 5–10-point decrease of low-income students at moderately and highly-selective universities, respectively (Figure S4).
The Take Home Message
The take home message is clear: If the goal is to increase racial diversity of student bodies at selective institutions, then lottery admissions isn’t going to help, and seems to substantially decrease racial diversity. A lottery system will further decrease the proportion of men in higher ed – a continuing diversity issue less often discussed.
What is less clear, however, is the impacts of lotteries on income diversity. The analyses here are limited to lowest income students, which show that lotteries will generally decrease their proportion, but it’s not clear whether fewer affluent and more middle-class students will be admitted.
Overall, however, lottery admissions aren’t going to solve any diversity problems in higher ed. On to the next proposal.