Inside the Black Box: Selective College Admission, Holistic Review, and Affirmative Action

Principal Investigator: OiYan Poon | School of Education | Colorado State University


In this study, Dr. Poon is examining how race-conscious holistic review works within current affirmative action legal parameters, according to admissions officers across the U.S. Past studies seeking to answer the key question in current affirmative action debates – whether selective admissions processes produces discriminatory effects by race – have been limited by a lack of understanding of how admissions offices construct and conduct holistic review and selection. Previous research testing socioeconomic differences in admission outcomes have not accounted for contemporary organizational contexts, structures, and processes of race-conscious holistic review. Moreover, little research has attempted to understand how holistic review works, leaving admissions a poorly understood 'black box' – a mysterious system in higher education. Dr. Poon is conducting and analyzing data from anonymous semi-structured individual interviews with 50-60 admission professionals familiar with race-conscious holistic review systems at highly selective colleges and universities. She will work to identity commonalities and differences in admission practices, and develop theoretical models of race-conscious holistic review. The results and analysis will contribute toward organizational studies and policy research in higher education, and enhance public debate and future inquiries seeking to understand whether and how selective admissions systems produce disparate outcomes.,

Grant Type:

Small Grant

Grant Amount:




Research Area:


Topic / Subject:

Organizational Theory/Organization Learning, Higher Education, Policy

Methods / Approach:

Interpretive method, Grounded Theory, Interviews

Disciplinary Perspective:

Public Policy, Education