Berkeley universities

Berkeley study finds major restriction policies cause racial stratification


UC Berkeley’s Center for Higher Education Studies, or CSHE, released a study Dec. 6 showing that major restriction policies cause racial inequality and resource inefficiency.

The study analyzed the top restriction policies at the top 25 public universities in the United States, according to Zachary Bleemer, study co-author and research associate at CSHE. The study found that 75% of the top five lucrative majors were restricted, and none or less than 10% of the major restrictions were imposed at private and for-profit universities.

“People are surprised that these major restrictions are so widespread,” Bleemer said. “It is only because it is so widespread that it can play such an important role at the national level in explaining the wage gap among workers with college degrees.”

In this study, under-represented minorities or “URM students” are defined as students who identify as black, Chicanx, Latino or Native American, while “non-URM students” refer to all other students, according to Bleemer. .

The study shows that URM students have tended to earn college majors with lower economic value compared to non-URM students over the past 20 years.

“This is what we call racial stratification,” Bleemer said. “Black and Hispanic students… get a different set of majors than white and Asian students, and that set of majors… tend to have lower economic value. “

The study followed students enrolled in selective public research universities with available data, including UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz.

CSHE Director George Blumenthal noted that the findings of this study address “the issue of equity in higher education”.

Bleemer said the college major restriction policies appeared to be the “main culprit” behind the growing ethnic stratification among college majors.

Bleemer added that the major restriction policies appear to widen this “human capability achievement gap” between URM and non-URM graduate workers, and is part of the reason why the gap has remained despite many anti-URM policies. discriminatory practices that people expected to reduce the wage gap. .

“(Major restriction policies) work as a countervailing force,” Bleemer said. “Widen the salary between workers who have graduated from URM and those who are not. “

Blumenthal noted that major restrictions often exist due to increased enrollment.

According to Blumenthal, when more students want to enroll in a certain major, the department may not be able to handle the surge in enrollment that follows. He added that it is “perfectly legitimate” to hire temporary instructors or to put in place major restrictions when the increase in enrollments is too great.

However, such restrictions should only be temporary, Blumenthal said, adding that the department should hire professors if the push continues.

“If the push does not continue, which it sometimes does, the department should be able to lift this limitation on registrations,” Blumenthal said. “So that doesn’t continue to eliminate the under-represented population. “

Bleemer points out that major restriction policies not only have implications for fairness, but also important ramifications in terms of efficiency.

For example, major restriction policies explicitly limit access to STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math degrees, that the U.S. government is trying to promote. According to Bleemer, this may have “initial economic ramifications for security.”

While many restriction policies require students to earn a certain GPA to declare a major, evidence suggests that allocating resources to students who are less well prepared for the field would be more valuable to these students, Bleemer noted. He added that these students receive relatively few academic opportunities and would be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered.

This study is very closely related to a previous study published by CSHE last year, which found that economics majors at UC Santa Cruz who barely reached the GPA threshold earned $ 22,000 more than they did. would have with their second-choice majors early in their careers.

Researchers are interested in doing more similar studies in the future, focusing primarily on engineering and computer science majors, according to Bleemer.

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.