The Politics of Affirmative Action in North Carolina's Higher Education

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Race-based affirmative action has been under threat for the past several decades since its rise during the middle of the 20th century. As several Supreme Court cases have upheld and rebuked certain elements of race-conscious admissions, some states have even gone as far as to ban affirmative action in their public universities entirely. In 2003, the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger decided that race-based admissions would no longer be necessary after 25 years. While making this bold assertion, the Court left several questions open. For example, what would no longer needing affirmative action look like?

This thesis examines the issue of race-based affirmative action by asking whether or not the admissions process at public and private universities is insulated from external influences. This “politics” of affirmative action potentially shows that race-conscious admissions is under attack not due to grave constitutional violations, but rather a mixture of federal, state, and local prejudice and diminishing public support. This thesis looks at North Carolina and adds to existing literature by using time-series regression of 39 public and private universities and difference-in-difference modeling on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after its major 2014 federal lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC. Findings indicate that private universities outperformed public universities in affirmative action outcomes between 1994 and 2020. This thesis argues the difference stems from politics. Results regarding the impact of the 2014 lawsuit remain inconclusive.





Melatti, Kyle (2021). The Politics of Affirmative Action in North Carolina's Higher Education. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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