The last major Supreme Court decision dealing with affirmative action, 2003's Grutter v. Bollinger, was notable for two reasons. First, and most obviously, it set new ground rules for colleges that wanted to consider race in its admissions process. Second, it contained an incredibly bold, and seemingly tossed off, prediction. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor declared:
It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education. Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.
Yep. Educational inequality was apparently on a 25-year egg timer.
Was there any chance she was right? Are we really approaching a point where campuses won't need to change their admissions standards for the sake of diversity? Given that today's court may well be getting ready to put new limits on affirmative action policies, the answer to that question seems freshly relevant.
Thankfully, economists Alan Krueger (now of the Obama administration), Jesse Rothstein, and Sarah Turner decided to tackle the issue in 2005.