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Admitting Students to Selective Education Programs: Merit, Profiling, and Affirmative Action

Dario Cestau, Dennis Epple, Holger Sieg

NBER Working Paper No. 21232
Issued in June 2015, Revised in November 2015
NBER Program(s):Program on Children, Economics of Education Program, Public Economics Program

For decades, colleges and universities have struggled to increase participation of minority and disadvantaged students. Urban school districts confront a parallel challenge; minority and disadvantaged students are underrepresented in selective programs that use merit-based admission. In their referral and admission policies to such selective programs, school districts may potentially set different admission thresholds based on income and race (affirmative action), and they may potentially take account of differences in achievement relative to ability across race and income groups (profiling). We develop an econometric model that provides a unified treatment of affirmative action and profiling. Implementing the model for an urban district, we find profiling by race and income, and affirmative action for low-income students. Counterfactual analysis reveals that these policies achieve more than 80% of African American enrollment that could be attained by race-based affirmative action.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21232

Published: Dario Cestau & Dennis Epple & Holger Sieg, 2017. "Admitting Students to Selective Education Programs: Merit, Profiling, and Affirmative Action," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 125(3), pages 761-797. citation courtesy of

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