On January 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would reconsider race-based affirmative action policies in college admissions. Race-based affirmative action policies increase admission chances for many traditionally disadvantaged racial groups. This Supreme Court reconsideration is not new; race-based affirmative action policies have been challenged in the Supreme Court numerous times.

Despite affirmative action laws and policies, students of color remain underrepresented in college, and particularly so at elite colleges and universities. To understand the extent of these disparities in Minnesota, we examined enrollment in higher education and bachelor’s degree attainment over time in Minnesota, and compared these rates to the nation as a whole.

Disparities in enrollment in higher education exist, but the magnitude of these disparities varies by racial and ethnic group

The following graph shows the percentage of Minnesotans, by race and ethnicity, who enrolled in a higher education institution within 16 months of graduating from high school in 2019. White and Asian Minnesotans enrolled at the highest percentages (74% and 75%, respectively). American Indian or Alaska Native Minnesotans had the lowest enrollment at less than half (43%). Eliminating race-based affirmative action policies may negatively affect higher education enrollment among American Indian Minnesotans in particular, whose enrollment rates are already much lower than other groups. 

Bachelor’s degree attainment has increased among all groups in Minnesota, but racial and ethnic disparities remain prevalent

The percentage of Minnesotans age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher has increased in Minnesota over the past 20 years for all racial and ethnic groups, but disparities remain persistent. The percentage of Asian and White Minnesotans with a bachelor’s degree is higher, compared to other racial and ethnic groups. The increase in bachelor’s degrees over time is smaller for Black Minnesotans (three percentage-point increase) as compared to other groups (percentage point increases range from 8 to 11). Increases in bachelor’s degree attainment may stagnate among Black Minnesotans if the Supreme Court race-based eliminated affirmative action policies.

Bachelor’s degree rates for Minnesota’s Asian and White populations are higher compared to the national average

The following figures depict the percentage of individuals with bachelor’s degrees in Minnesota and the U.S. separately by race and ethnicity, with our White population as the comparison.

Minnesota fares well for bachelor’s degree attainment among White residents, but less so among Black, American Indian, and Hispanic residents where the percentages of bachelor’s degree-holding residents hover around or are below the national average. Asian Minnesotans have higher percentages of bachelor’s degree attainment compared to White Minnesotans. The results for Asian Americans and Minnesotans are particularly salient given the recent court case with Students for Fair Admission Inc. v. Harvard College, which argues that the Ivy League school discriminates against Asian Americans. Our results indicate that eliminating race-based affirmative action policies is likely to harm degree attainment among Black, American Indian, and Hispanic Americans and not among Asian Americans.

Minnesota could do better when compared with surrounding states with tuition reciprocity

The graph below depicts the 2019 percentage of bachelor’s degrees (age 25+) by race and ethnicity for Minnesota and surrounding states that have tuition reciprocity. Minnesota has lower percentages of bachelor’s degree attainment for Black residents compared to South and North Dakota (and higher percentages than Wisconsin). Minnesota has higher percentages of bachelor’s degree attainment for American Indian and multiracial residents as compared to surrounding states.

Eliminating affirmative action policies may widen the racial and ethnic disparities in higher education

Eliminating race-based affirmative action policies may exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities in higher education. In Minnesota, elimination of these policies may be particularly harmful for Black and American Indian Minnesotans who have lower rates of enrolling in higher education or bachelor’s degree attainment.

Learn more about the Supreme Court’s affirmative action court case.

Learn more about Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.