In my last entry I summarized the three sets of evidence that support the law school mismatch hypothesis, and promised to examine each in more detail. I’ll start here with the third set – the first-choice/second-choice analysis – because it helps set up the others.
The BPS dataset includes some 1840 black law students who started law school in 1991. All completed a detailed survey shortly after matriculation, and somewhat more than half reported that they had been admitted to their “first choice” law school. Of these nearly 1100 students, about one-sixth reported that they had passed over their first choice school to go somewhere else. These 181 blacks are those I call the “second-choice” students. Although the study did not inquire in depth into students’ decision-making processes, most of these students indicated they had passed over their first-choice school for either financial or geographic reasons.
A black who passes up his first-choice school is still probably attending a school that used preferences in admitting him. But it’s plausible that, usually, such a student is passing up a more elite school to go to one somewhat less elite, and therefore he will be less “mismatched” than his peer who goes to his first-choice school. According to the BPS data, the average “second-choice” student has an academic index that’s 92 points lower than the average for students in his tier. The other eight hundred “first-choice” students have index scores that average 130 points lower than their tier mean. The BPS tiers are wide, of course, but this seems like a reasonable and unbiased estimate of how much “less” mismatched the second-choice students should be.
I noted yesterday that when we compare outcomes for black and white students with similar pre-law school credentials, black outcomes are substantially worse, and I attribute this gap to the mismatch effect. If we reduce the “mismatch” (i.e., the credentials gap), we should reduce the gap in outcomes. The simplest assumption is that the outcome gap will decline in proportion to the credentials gap. In other words, the second-choice blacks should shrink the outcome gap by (130-92) / 130 = 29% relative to the first-choice blacks.
Okay. Let’s look at some results. In each of the tables below I compare the first-choice blacks with a weighted sample of whites with matched entering credentials, and I compare the second-choice blacks with a similar weighted sample of matched whites. That illustrates the gap caused by the mismatch effect, and controls for any differences in entering credentials between the two groups. For example, consider first-year grades:
|First-choice blacks (n=819)||Comparable whites||Second-choice blacks (n=161)||Comparable whites|
|Mean first-year GPA
(standardized by school)
(difference in black / white GPAs)
|Proportionate reduction in outcome gap||(0.70 - 0.51) ÷ 0.70 = 27%|
|Predicted reduction in outcome gap||29%|
|Statistically significant?||Yes, p < .001|