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Is African American Enrollment in Law School Down?:

One frequently hears that the enrollment of African American students in law school has "declined," calling for desperate measures such as the ABA's new "diversity" standard. [See, e.g., a statement from Marian M. Yim, Chairperson, Education Subcommittee, ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice, stating that there is a "growing crising [sic] in declining enrollment of African-American and Latino students in law school."] Putting aside the relevant legal and policies issues, is it true that African American enrollment has declined? Yes, but. Data on the ABA's website (if someone can tell me how to reproduce the chart in this post, I will) shows that enrollment of African-American students leaped from 5,894 in 1986 to 9,681 in 1994, a better than 60% increase in just eight years. Enrollment then declined slightly, reaching a low of 9,271 in 1998, and then began to rise slowly again. In 2004, the last year for which data is available, the total reached 9,488.

In short, African-American enrollment has indeed "declined" if you use 1994 as the baseline. On the other hand, if you use 1986 as a baseline, African-American enrollment has risen by over 60%, but the increase essentially came in one large boom between 1986 and 1994. If that increase had happened gradually between 1986 and 2004, the trend line would show a steady increase in African-American students. So it's correct to state that enrollment of African-American students has declined since 1994, but it's a bit misleading if you don't acknowledge that the 1994 statistics reflected a seemingly anomalous large increase (why the sudden increase at that time? I don't have a clue) over a very short period of time.

Academic Year No. of Schools Reporting 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year TOTAL
2004-2005 185/188 3,457 2,873 2,845 313 9,488
2003-2004 184/187 3,300 3,008 2,787 342 9,437
2001-2002 181/184 3,474 2,867 2,737 334 9,412
2000-2001 180/183 3,402 2,890 2,757 305 9,354

1999-2000

179/182

3,353

2,903

2,700

316

9,272

1998-99

178/181

3,478

2,728

2,754

311

9,271

1997-98

175/178

3,126

2,752

2,887

367

9,132

1996-97

176/179

3,223

3,013

2,991

315

9,542

1995-96

175/178

3,474

3,161

2,855

289

9,542

1994-95

174/177

3,600

3,000

2,771

310

9,681

1993-94

173/176

3,455

2,846

2,573

282

9,156

1992-93

173/176

3,303

2,603

2,465

267

8,638

1991-92

173/176

3,169

2,556

2,196

228

8,149

1990-91

172/175

2,982

2,222

2,023

205

7,432

1989-90

172/175

2,628

2,128

1,816

219

6,791

1988-89

171/174

2,463

1,913

1,728

217

6,321

1987-88

171/175

2,339

1,761

1,690

238

6,028

1986-87

171/175

2,159

1,800

1,735

200

5,894

1985-86

172/175

1,800

1,838

1,791

240

6,052

1984-85

171/174

1,735

1,878

1,686

177

5,955

1983-84

170/173

1,735

1,813

1,711

196

5,967

1982-83

169/172

2,217

1,827

1,623

185

5,852

1981-82

169/172

2,238

1,793

1,596

162

5,789

1980-81

168/171

2,144

1,684

1,531

146

5,506

1979-80

166/169

2,002

1,647

1,438

170

5,257

1978-79

164/167

2,021

1,565

1,572

192

5,350

1977-78

160/163

1,945

1,648

1,508

203

5,304

1976-77

160/163

2,128

1,654

1,488

233

5,303

1975-76

160/163

2,045

1,511

1,452

119

5,127

1974-75

154/157

1,934

1,587

1,329

145

4,995

1973-74

147/151

2,066

1,443

1,207

101

4,817

1972-73

144/149

1,919

M Dudley (mail):
Black student enrollment as a percentage of minority enrollment is shrinking signficantly since 1994, according the the ABA statistics, which may be a more interesting issue to explore. (20% growth in minority enrollment from 1994 to 2005, while 2% decline in black law student enrollment, according to the ABA)
3.16.2006 10:28am
LawProfCommentator (mail):
Dudley, given that the population of Latinos, Asian Americans and (declared) American Indians is growing much faster than the population of African Americans, this doesn't seem surprising.
3.16.2006 10:31am
frankcross (mail):
Instead of just absolute numbers, how about as a percentage of the population of the relevant ages and as a percentage of law school enrollment.
3.16.2006 10:33am
flimflam:
perhaps admissions offices decided that "diversity" actually means "more minorities of various kinds" rather than "more blacks"
3.16.2006 10:35am
tefta (mail):
Here's a clue -- affirmative action/quotas.
3.16.2006 10:45am
J..:

as a percentage of law school enrollment

Yes, this is what I would did do.

2004/5...6.40
2003/4...6.50
2002/3...n/a
2001/2...6.97
2000/1...7.06
1999/0...7.01
1998/9...7.03
1997/8...6.93
1996/7...7.07
1995/6...7.04
1994/5...7.18
1993/4...6.87
1992/3...6.46
1991/2...6.03
1990/1...5.61
1989/0...5.24
1988/9...5.02
1987/8...4.89
1986/7...4.78
1985/6...4.88
3.16.2006 10:47am
M Dudley (mail):
There's much being written about the declining numbers of African American baseball players in the Major Leagues as well. The sport happens to be globalizing a bit lately. (There is also an increase in bi-racial or multi-ethnic background self-identification categories.) My only point was that I find that to be an interesting sub-text in the discussion of black enrollment at law schools. Like many in this country, I tend to initially think of "black" when encountering the term "minority."
3.16.2006 10:51am
byomtov (mail):
Frankcross has a good question: How does this growth compare with overall growth in law school enrollment? The absolute figures provided are of limited value.

We might also note that 1986 first-year law students graduated from high school in 1982 or earlier. The quality of K-12 education available to African-Americans may have greatly increased between the late 60's and then. And it is worth checking undergraduate minority enrollment growth in the matching time frame. That might provide part of the answer.
3.16.2006 10:59am
Justin (mail):
The real question is whether the 1994 levels (7.14 percent) is optimal. Given that its less than African Americans' population in society at all (~ 10%), we should be mildly concerned, even using 1994 standards, as to what has happened since 1994 for the decline. However, I agree with DB (broadly) that AA may not be the answer anyway - clearly many African American children these days are getting the short stick from day 1, and simply giving some (who may not be getting the short stick, and almost none of who are getting the serious short stick) of them preferences at the college and law school application levels isn't either efficient or sufficient at correcting the real problem.
3.16.2006 11:14am
Florida_Lawyer (mail):
Justin:

Why would the relevant comparison be percent of minority law school students to percent of minorities in the total population? I think a more appropriate figure would compare the percent of minority law school students to their percent in the applicant pool. I've seen this figure somewhere - Sander's article, maybe?
3.16.2006 11:33am
M Dudley (mail):
At UC's Boalt, Davis and UCLA law schools, there was a decline in black applicants from 1993 through 2001, but since 2001, the number of black applicants has been steadily rising. Some information about minority and black applicant/admission/enrollment at UC's four law schools since 1993 and 1994 can be found here:
http://www.ucop.edu/acadadv/datamgmt/lawdata/
3.16.2006 12:28pm
AyUaxe:
All enrollment in law schools should be down. The [my] profession is over-populated and law school curricula are widely seen (and in my experience) to be disconnected from the realities of practice. I could make more money, have a better life-style, and do more good for my fellow man as a plumber or electrician. The bar assosciations of this country have done nothing to maintain the professional character of legal practice, but have made us just another sector of the service economy, with its stark and wide economic stratifications. If I qualified for affirmative action assistance to go where I wanted for professional education, I wouldn't go to law school either. Who needs the headaches?
3.16.2006 1:11pm
JohnAnnArbor:
perhaps admissions offices decided that "diversity" actually means "more minorities of various kinds" rather than "more blacks"

No way. Admissions officers only value "under-represented minorities." Jews and Asians are "over-represented" in their view.

They are often not subtle in their disdain for whites and the "over-represented." I had a meeting with an admissions officer at UMichigan who made it VERY clear that I was not welcome at my scheduled appointment, which she started 45 minutes late to give an elaborate welcome to an unscheduled applicant who happened to be an "under-represented" minority; I got only a five-minute appointment and was told my high test scores were "luck" (think she would have said that to the previous applicant?). Similarly, my friend applied to Wayne State's medical school; at her scheduled appointment, they made it clear that she, as "just another Indian," was not worthy of consideration of her file in any actual detail.
3.16.2006 1:49pm
Houston Lawyer:
I spoke with a summer clerk with my previous firm who related how she had gone by the admissions office at UT law school and asked what scores a white applicant needed to have to gain admission. She was naive in her presumption that they would give her such information, but I would like to have witnessed the exchange.
3.16.2006 2:01pm
Kovarsky (mail):
you can't really draw any conclusions about the role of affirmative action AT THE LAW SCHOOL LEVEL because this data doesn't tell you about whehter the relative qualification of under-represented minorities for admission is going up or down. if it is going up, then the increased fractions may have nothing to do with affirmative action at the law schools. i understand that everybody might want to leap to some conclusion about affirmative action on the basis of this data, but that's just silly - it doesn't tell you anything about AA.

It tells you precisely what David says it tells you - that the claim that minority enrollment in law school is down is false - both in terms of absolute numbers and in terms of fraction of students.
3.16.2006 2:03pm
Justin (mail):
The number actually in is more important because taking an overarching look at the equation, true equality will only be resolved at that point. If the number of APPLICANTS are down for various social reasons - that african amerian college graduates are too pressured by economic inequality to work immediately after graduation, for instance - this is something that we as a society should try to resolve. As I've noted, I think affirmative action, for that reason, fails to adequately or properly address the real problem, and thus (despite realizing the short stick this country's african american community has gotten in aggregate) tend to oppose affirmative action as a policy - though I believe it is clearly constitutional under the 14th Amendment for reasons I do not feel like getting into on this particular thread.
3.16.2006 2:19pm
tefta (mail):
Data, we don't need no stickin' data!
3.16.2006 4:39pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
It seems that one of the axioms of the affirmative action philosophy is that absent bias every ethic group should appear in every endeavor with a frequency equal to their frequency in the general population with suitable adjustments for age and location. This assumes that the average attribute should be the typical attribute. This is true in low dimensions for the normal distribution. For example the mean of the bivariate normal coincides with the mode. But in high dimensions (like 10) this is not the case. Someone who had the mean value for every attribute would be extremely atypical because there is almost no probability mass at the mean in high dimensions. So it seems to me that finding some ethnic group under represented in something is not in itself evidence of ethnic bias.
3.16.2006 5:42pm