Joni Hersch (Vanderbilt), Affirmative Action and the Leadership Pipeline, 96 Tul. L. Rev. ___ (2021):
Race-conscious affirmative action in higher education admissions is currently permitted in order for universities to meet their compelling interest in pursuing the educational benefits of a diverse student body. But the legality of affirmative action, which plays a prominent role in creating a diverse student body at elite educational institutions, is under attack. I develop and provide an empirical basis for an expanded understanding of the educational benefits provided by affirmative action: namely, of fostering a pipeline of future societal leaders and professionals. Using data on nearly 500,000 college graduates, I demonstrate that the likelihood of earning a professional or graduate degree—an outcome that is closely linked to employment in influential positions—drops off dramatically in the universities attended by the majority of college graduates, as compared with elite universities that use affirmative action. Further, race is a relatively unimportant predictor of professional or graduate degree attainment among graduates of similarly elite schools. Curtailing race-conscious affirmative action would thereby exclude many students from underrepresented minority groups who would successfully earn professional and graduate degrees—and later, enter into influential positions that shape society.
Bloomberg Law, Why Big Law Has a Stake in the Harvard Admissions Case:
Economist Joni Hersch ... [argues] that affirmative action is critical to achieving diversity in the professions and society at large. Her thesis is that elite undergraduate schools feed elite professional schools, and that considering race in admission to undergraduate institutions is vital to sustaining a diverse pipeline. ...
[A]mong those few Black lawyers who’ve ascended to top leadership positions at major firms—such as Fred Nance of Squire Patton Boggs, Ben Wilson of Beveridge & Diamond, Ernest Greer of Greenberg Traurig, and Kevyn Orr of Jones Day—all went to both selective colleges and law schools.
Hersch tells me that minority students who go to selective colleges can hit the ground running in law school—which is key because “first year grades determine everything.”
For everyone, “the likelihood of earning an advanced degree from an elite institution is overwhelmingly related to the status of an undergraduate institution,” she writes. “Those with elite undergraduate degrees are 10 times more likely to earn an elite advanced degree as are those with an undergraduate degree from a broad access institution,” she reports in her study.
As for the notion that going to a prestigious professional school can “scrub” or balance out an undergraduate degree from a humble institution, Hersch says: Fuhgettaboutit!
“If you didn’t go to an elite undergraduate school but go to an elite graduate school, you won’t catch up,” Hersch tells me. “Something happens in the process of going to an elite college—networking, learning a common language.” Her research also shows that students “without elite undergraduate degrees do not catch up monetarily,” noting that “among men who earn elite advanced degrees, those with an undergraduate degree from the most selective universities earn 41% more.” And yes, those earnings premiums pertain to JDs, as well as MBAs and MDs.