In the U.S. supreme court case Grutter v. Bollinger, the following statement was made:

In a majority opinion joined by four other justices, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held that the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."

This paper states that:

Although there exists mixed evidence regarding the effects of diversity on civic engagement, the majority of research on interactional and curricular diversity strongly suggests that increased exposure to diversity is positively associated with civic engagement. Achieving awareness of group-based inequalities and discrimination through interactions with diverse others and enrolling in diversity-related courses is the first step in taking action to improve one’s community and society at large. Even though the majority of research covered in this section related to university settings, these findings indicate that students’ experiences in college set them on the path to engage in civic actions once they join the “real world.” These individuals are more likely to perform activities and services in order to improve outcomes for others, and in doing so, they are making a difference in their homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and communities

Are there any studies looking specifically at more tangible metrics such as grades in diverse vs. non-diverse student bodies or how increase/decrease of diversity correlates with student's grades?

  • 2
    Is there any reason to think O'Connor ever meant to imply benefits in terms of grades? I suspect no such research exists but how to prove that?
    – Brian Z
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 16:44
  • We don't have SDO'C here to query. But, absent any effects whatever on "educational benefits" does the US constitution prohibit the law school's use of race in admissions? That is, is supposed educational benefit of any kind even relevant to the specific case? Even supposing that race based admissions were harmful (which, in my possibly scatterbrained opinion ,they are) does the US constitution have anything to say about it?
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 17:36
  • @BobaFit If it's a public school they have to treat all students equally in the context of the 14th Amendment, and then there are statutory requirements for educational federal funding like in the Educational Amendments to the Civil Rights Act which require non-discrimination from the educational institution to be eligible. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 18:15
  • Is University of Michigan a "public school?"
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 18:20
  • 1
    @BobaFit The University of Michigan is a "public school". Its Ann Arbor campus is the flagship university of the State of Michigan's public higher education system. It wouldn't have presented the legal issues found in Grutter if it was not. The case specifically concerned law school admissions at the law school which I attended and graduated from in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a number of years after I graduated from it.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 19:13

1 Answer 1


Are there any studies looking specifically at more tangible metrics such as grades in diverse vs. non-diverse student bodies or how increase/decrease of diversity correlates with student's grades?


There is a great deal of literature on the benefits of and detriments of affirmative action and it isn't entirely consistent. But there are indeed a significant number of studies supporting the educational benefits of student diversity in higher education, which I survey below. Also, I want to make clear that I'm not personally endorsing or disavowing any of these particular studies, which I have not carefully reviewed in preparing this answer. This answer is a survey, not a meta-analysis of the data.

A summary of some of the literature can be found in an H.R. brochure for a Florida higher educational institution (apparently based upon an identical publication from the University of California-Davis), where the article states (headings omitted):

• A controlled experimental study of performance during a brainstorming session compared ideas generated by ethnically diverse groups composed of Asians, Blacks, Whites, and Latinos to those generated by ethnically homogenous groups composed of Whites only. Evaluators who were unaware of the source of the ideas found no significant difference in the number of ideas generated by the two types of groups. However, when applying measures of feasibility and effectiveness, they rated the ideas generated by diverse groups as being of higher quality.4

• The level of critical analysis of decisions and alternatives was higher in groups exposed to minority viewpoints than in groups that were not. Minority viewpoints stimulated discussion of multiple perspectives and previously unconsidered alternatives, whether or not the minority opinion was correct or ultimately prevailed.5

• A study of corporate innovation found that the most innovative companies deliberately established diverse work teams.6

• Data from the 1995 Faculty Survey conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) demonstrated that scholars from minority groups have expanded and enriched scholarship and teaching in many academic disciplines by offering new perspectives and by raising new questions, challenges, and concerns.7

• Several investigators found that women and faculty of color more frequently employed active learning in the classroom, encouraged student input, and included perspectives of women and minorities in their coursework.8

Numerous research studies have examined the impact of diversity on students and educational outcomes. Cumulatively, these studies provide extensive evidence that diversity has a positive impact on all students, minority and majority.9 Some examples are:

• A national longitudinal study of 25,000 undergraduates at 217 four-year colleges and universities showed that institutional policies fostering diversity of the campus community had positive effects on students’ cognitive development, satisfaction with the college experience, and leadership abilities. These policies encouraged faculty to include themes relating to diversity in their research and teaching, and provided students with opportunities to confront racial and multicultural issues in the classroom and in extracurricular settings.10

• Two longitudinal studies—one conducted by HERI in 1985 and 1989 with over 11,000 students from 184 institutions, and another in 1990 and 1994 on ­approximately 1500 students at the University of Michigan—showed that students who interacted with racially and ethnically diverse peers both informally and within the classroom showed the greatest “engagement in active thinking, growth in intellectual engagement and motivation, and growth in intellectual and academic skills.”11 A more recent study of 9,000 students at ten selective colleges reported that meaningful engagement rather than casual and superficial interactions led to greater benefit from interaction with racially diverse peers.12

• Data from the National Study of Student Learning indicated that both in-class and out-of-class interactions and involvement with diverse peers fostered critical thinking. This study also found a strong correlation between “the extent to which an institution’s environment is perceived as racially nondiscriminatory” and students’ willingness to accept both diversity and intellectual challenge.13

• A survey of 1,215 faculty members in departments granting doctoral degrees in computer science, chemistry, electrical engineering, microbiology, and physics showed that women faculty played important roles in fostering the education and success of women graduate students.14

The citations are as follows with full references at the link below:


1 Manzoni, Strebel, and Barsoux, 2010; Herring, 2009; Page, 2007; Putnam, 2007; van Knippenberg and Schippers, 2007; Mannix and Neale, 2005; Cox, 1993.

2 University of Wisconsin–Madison, Office of the Provost, 2004.

3 Herring, 2009; Chang et al., 2003; ACE and AAUP, 2000.

4 McLeod, Lobel and Cox, 1996.

5 Nemeth, 1995; 1986; 1985. See also: Schulz-Hardt, et al., 2006; Sommers, 2006; Antonio, et al., 2004.

6 Kanter, 1983.

7 Antonio, 2002. See also: Turner, 2000; Nelson and Pellet, 1997.

8 Milem in Chang et al., 2003.

9 Smith et al., 1997. See also: Beck, 2009.

10 Astin, A.W., “Diversity and Multiculturalism on Campus.” 1993; Astin, A.W., What Matters in College? 1993.

11 Gurin et al., 2002; Gurin, 1999.

12 Espenshade and Radford, 2009.

13 Pascarella et al., 1996.

14 Fox in Hornig, 2003. See also: Carbonell and Castro, 2008; Kutob, Senf, and Campos-Outcalt, 2006; Bakken, 2005.

It should be noted for completeness, however, that the same source also identifies challenges to higher educational outcomes caused by diversity.

A related point, that is much more strongly established empirically, is that diversity among teachers and instructors is beneficial, particularly among students who would otherwise have no ethnically similar role models. For example, this article notes with links to supporting materials that:

Achieving faculty diversity enhances underrepresented students’ educational experience. For example, minority faculty can serve as mentors of students from underrepresented groups. Moreover, students from underrepresented groups may feel more comfortable talking about their challenges to faculty members with whom they share a background or experiences.

In general, minority faculty provide much needed support and opportunity for growth and development to students from similar groups.

Consistent with these observations, a study found that 96% of minority students say that studying under minority professors has a positive impact on their education.

Not surprisingly, a more supportive and inclusive educational experience results in improved academic performance. In fact, increased faculty diversity leads to better graduation rates for students from underrepresented groups.

A 2018 paper linked in that article states in its abstract that:

This study examines the relationship between faculty racial/ethnic diversity and graduation rates of undergraduate students, in particular those from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority populations. Using IPEDS data, the researchers calculated a Diversity Score for each institution. Findings suggest U.S. faculty diversity is lower than in the U.S. national population. Overall graduation rates for underrepresented minority students of all races/ethnicities are positively affected by increased diversity of their faculty.

There is also strong evidence that some institutions, such as the City University of New York (which is distinct from the State University of New York) and the California State University system (which is distinct from the University of California system) have a particular strong track record a achieving high rates of graduation and good post graduation outcomes for low income students, while a report by "Third Way, a center-left think tank, found more than 500 schools where the average low-income student who enrolls earns less than an average high school graduate, even 10 years after enrolling." (Source).

Institutions with poor performance from low income students tend to be "for profit" institutions. Students with the best performance tend to be non-flagship public colleges and universities that are more diversity ethnically than "flagship" public universities. Historically black colleges and universities also tend to perform well relative to the average college or university in the outcomes that they produce for their students. Urban institutions in places with strong economies tend to produce more "value added" for comparable students that higher educational institutions in rural places and places with weak economies (e.g. the "Rust Belt").

A chapter addressing the issue written by a professor at Stanford University in part of a larger book, also addresses the question in depth and contains exhaustive citations to the literature. The findings are summarized as follows:

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This analysis focuses on "softer" benefits as opposed to narrowly conceived academic benefit.

I've also seen, although I can't readily find the citations to them at this moment, studies looking at the importance of "bridge populations" in building educational institutions that function as a whole instead of being almost entirely segregated internally often to the detriment of all involved.

One study (again, I saw it a number of years ago and don't have the citation right at hand) finds that students from interracial or mixed ethnicity backgrounds play an outsized role in building connections between ethnically divided communities within schools.

Another found that elite honors programs within schools that also have much less academically able students tend to create tension and division within a school unless there is also a group of students with intermediate academic ability that can bridge the divisions between these two groups in a school.

A broader way of looking at the issue looks at a few stylized facts and assumptions to reach the conclusion that diversity in higher educational student bodies is important:

  • Affirmative action has the greatest quantitative impact in a small share of the most selective educational institutions.

  • Most people not admitted to the most selective educational institutions will typically be admitted to some educational institution offering the same degrees.

  • The most selective educational institutions, collectively, see their mission as one of socializing a next generation of top level leaders in U.S. society.

  • These institutions see the increasing diversity in the United States as inevitable as a class of diversity top level leaders as a critical factor for the upper class collectively to manage an increasingly diverse U.S. society successfully once they are out in the real world.

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