To use just one example: a lottery could easily wind up admitting 40 violin players and zero bassoon players, or 8 percussionists but not a single oboe player. In which case a viable university orchestra becomes impossible, and every potential orchestra player suffers. (These are not exaggerated either -- for an incoming class of 1,000 students, of which only ~100 have a sufficient orchestra background with the requisite years of practice and want to play, there isn't a lot of margin for error.)
Now repeat ad nauseum for every type of sports team, extracurricular, distribution across majors, etc.
By ensuring there are approximately the right number of every "slots" for each type of applicant, the institution ensures that students have the ability to participate in the types of activities and courses they want to, and that student life is rich both academically and extracurricularly.
There are legitimate problems with some of the "slotting" as practiced today (particularly concerning legacies and in terms of whether a racial/ethnic/national balance should match the nation, the applicant pool, some other balance, or be ignored entirely), but a lottery would throw out the baby with the bathwater, and be a disaster for ensuring the kind of vibrant student life that is a major part of 4-year university experience.
(Obviously this is specific to smaller institutions, whether elite or not -- if your incoming class is 30,000 students then you'll always have enough of everyone.)
Think about it this way: the nature of the game is like investing - it's about Harvard picking winners. Harvard is like the well-known VC that can say they funded <this many> unicorns, and being a part of Harvard means being associated with success. Harvard may take some waivers on higher-risk/less-fortunate students for diversifying investments, but it's only one piece of the portfolio. Selectivity is a key ingredient to their ROI, endowment fund, and social capital. Harvard is a private university and cares about their private equity and capital in a way that is different from public universities.
It's really a shame.
The issue with the current system is that it produces the lack of diversity that you are describing because it optimises for things that only rich people have access to. If you go to a shit school, something that no child really has control over, you won't have extracurriculars, you might not have sports, there are no violins...this upper middle-class idea of "diversity" is weak and decadent.
Actually, people very frequently become friends through shared extracurricular activities; existing friendships are also a significant factor in choosing activities to participate in. This is all perfectly normal, and choosing extracurriculars for their own sake is the exception, not the rule. It's important to enjoy the activity yourself, of course, but don't dismiss the value that shared interests and backgrounds bring to any relationship.
> Do you have to check with Harvard to see if a certain kind of music is enjoyable?
I don't particularly care what Harvard thinks because I'm not trying to get into Harvard. I don't think it's out of line, however, for them to reinforce both the academic and social aspects of their culture by selecting for prospective students who already share these values—or at least demonstrate both ability and willingness to make an effort to fit in.
Also, admitting that getting admitted is based on luck directly contradicts the narrative of meritocracy in college admissions, which would decrease the perceived prestige of the school. So yeah, no way would Harvard go for this.
I also don't think it presupposes anything about what colleges want. What colleges want isn't relevant to a claim about what would be more fair. The paper this article is based on doesn't make an argument for how to force or persuade colleges to espouse the system. It only argues that this system is closer to a platonic ideal of admission fairness.
wrt to point 2: I guess it's about perspective. It's fine to propose systems that in theory would be nice but without an eye towards what could actually work, what's the point?
Hypothetically a threshold-based admission lottery would cast more sunlight on the admissions process since:
1. you'd cease having nonpublic, ill-defined measures for admission above the baseline; and
2. you'd have to publish the threshold in any realistically accountable system.
We can argue about whether or not such a system would be (willingly) embraced by universities, but I don't see how the system itself destroys meritocracy. It seems more accurate to say it simply denies meritocracy can be meaningfully measured above a certain baseline of qualification. That only obliviates meritocratic differences above your defined baseline.
Is your contention that the baseline itself would simply shift the uncertainty "downwards" to maintain the status quo?
The institutions in "the West" are really not as bad as some of us would like to think. Furthermore, undermining the public faith in these institutions can serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy - for example, making some brilliant applicants not even try to apply to a good University, believing it is biased against them.
1. Differences in encouragement from parents, teachers etc. Differences in how much emphasis is put on education.
2. Related to #1 - state school kids may think they are not good enough and not apply.
3. Actual quality of education may be significantly better at those schools, especially in certain subjects.
4. Genetic potential - some traits that allow kids to do well academically may well be genetic, so it could be that the parents would also have those traits, be better off economically because of it, and send their kids to good schools because of the combination of valuing education and being able to afford it.
To back this up, nobody else at my college applied. After I did on a whim, I discovered there was an aptitude test to pass, which I didn't. I blame my negligence for failing but I imagine people from more prestigious colleges & sixth forms would have been aware earlier and had help studying for it. Or even had private tutoring specifically for it.
The point is that:
1. The gap is very large. Those schools are only graduating a few thousand compared to hundreds of thousands students in state schools. Even if you compare with institutions that receive a huge number of applications from private schools (e.g. Edinburgh, Durham), the effect is disproportionate.
2. We need to make use of people who have the most ability. It is foolish in the extreme to suppose that going to Eton or having the right parents makes you a capable adult. You say the admissions process isn't biased...but we are optimising for whether you attended Eton. Speak to someone who didn't attend Eton or similar, and ask them if you think that is fair.
Btw, I went to a private school and went to a good university (that takes from private schools to a very high degree), and worked as an equity analyst (so meeting C-level execs and fund managers who mostly went to Oxbridge) your views are just generally very very wrong. These people are not capable or unusually smart. They just grew up in a safe environment with class sizes of less than 30 people. And UK management teams are, comparatively, very weak because there is no real meritocracy here. Sure, there are some good managers but this is basically certain in a large enough sample. And if someone has come up the hard way, they are usually a much safer bet. It is kind of crazy that you have picked one of the most busted, unmeritocratic societies in the world...and tried to show how it is actually fair...
The whole point to the modern university application process is they want more axis than academic achievement with which to evaluate prospective students. Did you play and do well in sports? Are you accomplished in any of the arts? Are you a chess master? Did you build a great robot winning several competitions? This is true student diversity, it's not just race and class - and it provides a differentiator between those who just studied and got a perfect SAT score and those with other accomplishments who also happen to have a near-perfect SAT score. The lottery system depicted here is unfair to those students who've gone beyond and accomplished things. We need to recognize accomplishments outside of the classroom are important.
Conversely it might take some of the pressure off.
As it stands there's never "enough." With a system that effectively caps you, you get to your lottery tier and can then back off. And considering how much the standards have increased over time to get into a school like this, that may not be a bad thing for mental health.
It is interesting to critique this idea for introducing chance. Pitch this idea to a poor person, pitch this idea to a rich person...that is your answer. It is hard to understand if you grew up with opportunity but for poor people this randomness represents a tremendous improvement. From a system that is designed to crush them, to one in which everyone has the same chance.
Otherwise, I suspect this would primarily benefit middle class students who can afford to pay for test prep and tutors, but not for a month-long volunteering stint in Nepal, and primarily hurt the relatively-sub-par-but-well-off legacy admits (which, who cares) and students with a lower SES that currently get a boost from consideration for that status/the follow-up effects of growing up and going to school in poor areas (which I do care deeply about).
I also think that all the volunteering and whatever should be cut from applications. Who gives a fuck if you played the oboe for ten years? Does that really matter? The point of music is enjoyment, the point of volunteering is to serve other people. I had a friend who was forced to play the saxaphone until university and it was tragic: he wouldn't talk about it, he only played to pass exams, he took no joy from it...like great but if you are being forced to do this then who cares? It has become another way to discriminate...and it isn't that much fun if you are a kid.
Harvard and similar schools have moved beyond just being smart. Everyone who applies is super smart. Now the yard stick is smart++ (meaning they want you to be "well rounded" which is code for having a bunch of self-driven/extra curriculars/special skills/x-factor etc to make you a stand out).
And yes, schools in the US do care, deeply, about extracurriculars. Harvard could fill every seat, every year, with the valedictorian of a different high school class. Since nearly every data point is tightly grouped on the most immediately available metric, they turn to other data points to make their decisions. (And there's a long history of using that flexibility for both exclusionary and inclusionary purposes.)
Harvard ran out of other measures. When all of the applicants are capping out every academic measure, you have to start to look beyond.
On all these metrics I would be seriously surprised if they have many more amazing applicants than places. If that is in fact the case, they should make more places available. It almost never happens that you get someone that is 10/10/10 on all metrics.
You played lacrosse? Awesome! How competitive was your team? How many starts did you have? What are your stats?
I'm not looking for people participating in activities, I'm looking for them succeeding. That should cut down a lot on people rushing around participating in a bunch of activities in order to pad a college resume. You want people who focused on results and had both the talent and tenacity to pursue them. Those are your predictors of future success.
Once you've decided the proportions of things like that, this article proposes that it should be purely up to chance via lottery (an assertion I personally agree with.)
Thanks for clarifying
In particular, note that the definition used in this context is an admission lottery such that, for all applicants at or above an explicit baseline of qualification, each applicant is equi-probable of being admitted. It's also worth noting the author explictly states the system is pragmatic for distinguishing between qualified candidates of increasingly insignificant meritocratic differences; however, it may not be compatible with "general welfare."
Harvard, like many Universities with applications from far more candidates than they can accept, filter applications based on perceived desirability. For example, a student with the same academic background is more likely to get admitted if they come from Wyoming or Maine than New York or California; in the name of having a more diverse student body with more diverse interests and upbringings, rather than just upper-middle-class students from coastal cities.
There is, of course, a racial component to this.
Today, qualified Asian-American applicants are overrepresented as a share of the overall population, due to great academic qualifications.
Harvard has been found to be accepting them at a lower rate than you would expect; if you look into it, there's some "desirability" factor that's bringing them down. Obviously this is very controversial.
"Students for Fair Admissions" was created by Edward Blum, a Neo-Conservative activist and AEI fellow who is well-known for his work against the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for attempting to reduce the population-based power of districts by only counting registered voters as persons, and generally recruiting 'victims' of affirmative action to be subjects of test-case lawsuits in order to advance his political beliefs.
No ticket scalpers.
How Much Should a Harvard Lotto Ticket Cost?
The author mentions that "This system would also alleviate the cost to families associated with students applying to increasing numbers of colleges", but I disagree. If you look at the system in terms of expected value, then what should you pay for that lotto ticket? (Note, I'm quoting a bit from my article, please excuse the laziness)
Assume that you are actually applying to Harvard and they actually confess to using randomness in their admissions. Say that they still require a fee to submit your application. Today that fee is sitting at $75.00. Say that the ‘prestige’ of Harvard remains the same after this hypothetical confession to the use of randomness and that today’s median salary for a Harvard grad stays at ~$85,000.00/year.
The questions then is: Should you apply to Harvard and hope to be a random applicant that gets in at the $75.00 price? Should you place a bet?
After you go through the math and stats for a bit, the conclusion is that the price of a Harvard Lotto ticket should be ~$89,823.00 . That's ~1200:1 on your money. You should absolutely apply to Harvard if they held a lotto, and even if the number of applicants rose ~120,000%.
I go through each of the Ivies and there is an update at the bottom on the top Universities and Liberal Arts schools in the US. Spoiler: CMU is not very 'worth it' (still a steal, all the same) and Carleton and Davidson are very 'worth it' for the admissions price.
In the end: Go to college kids. The ROI is insane.
If fairness is defined in this approach as a process that does not add information to the system, and in this case actually removes both information (bias) and noise (bias) equally, all it would serve to do is further obfuscate the cause of being admitted.
For an admissions lottery to be considered "fair," you have to assume the participant selection is fair, and that the functioning of the university itself is indifferent to who it gets. Maybe they should A/B test it, where some are admitted at random and their success compared against the traditional admissions process. Arguably, that's even what "legacy," students provide, a sample independent of the admissions process.
That we're having this discussion at all is a greater indicator of the waning of the university system as meaningful process, and how undergraduate education is subject to Goodhart's Law, where it has ceased to be a useful measure of aptitude, competence, or much at all anymore really.
In a threshold-based admission lottery, everyone more than k sigma from the mean (for example) is collapsed into the same category, such that information distinguishing them is lost. But the implicit premise to this system is that you can't accurately measure the distinctions between those deviations anyway.
Given that premise, you're not adding noise to the system, though you are removing information. I think the claim under question is that trying to precisely measure people more than k sigma from the mean is intrinsically noisy and prone to spurious correlation with academic success. So then you'd also be removing noise under this system.
So I think your point of contention should be with the premise if you disagree with it, because I don't think we can really argue about statistical properties of the lottery distribution until we first settle on the underlying axioms.
The proportion of input students of a type will be the same as in the the output of a fair lottery. Appeals to randomness just forfeit responsibility and ownership of the decision.
Harvard is trying to have it's cake and eat it too with it's selection process, there are a set amount of priorities they have with each class and need to balance these priorities out, namely: Admit enough legacy / wealthy students to placate the donor class, have a relatively diverse set of kids so that they can claim diversity, grab some kids with "exceptional talent" (maybe a great musician here and there) and pad out the rest with kids that have perfect SAT scores.
I honestly don't think this is a problem that can be solved. Harvard deliberately caps the amount of students they accept and their capacity to accept these students to maintain it's elite reputation, combine that with the fact that their student body needs to reflect the principles they tell the world (diversity more so that absolute quality) and you will have situations like this.
Is this not supposed to be an elite university for elite students?
Imagine two hypothetical students. One student graduated with a 4.3 by taking advanced courses at a high school where every student gets between a 3.5 and a 4.5 thanks to some combination of intelligence, good funding, grade inflation, and a parent population who can pay for a new wing or two if it means junior will graduate on time. The other student graduated with a 3.8 from an underfunded high school on Chicago's South side, where the average class size was 30+, the textbooks are 20 years old, and the average annual family income is around $30k. Which one of those students is more elite? Which one is more qualified?
Zion Williamson is currently a student and a basketball player at Duke University. He's 6'8", weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 280 lbs., and a few days ago he had a highlight where he started from under the hoop, sprinted out towards the three point line some 22 feet away, leapt towards a player on that line who was taking a shot, blocked the shot in mid-air, and landed without touching the shooter. The number of people in the United States with that combination of size, speed, and skill is in the single digits. The number of people in the world might - might - be in the triple digits. Is he an elite student? If so, is he more or less elite than the other students in the previous paragraph?
There isn't a clean metric for most qualified or most elite, and there really can't be, because the world doesn't neatly standardize like that. It's a symptom of insufficient consideration of the problem to suggest that fixing a massive and massively flawed system is super simple and just requires One Neat Trick that the thousands of people who have been thinking about and working on this for decades haven't considered.
For an academic institution or an athletic endeavor, I completely disagree. Performance in these environments is measurable. Elite performance is obvious, observable, and measurable.
Should a theoretical elite university basketball team sign and start a 4'11 80lbs person who makes 1% of shots and has only played basketball maybe a half dozen times before total but they happen to be the very best player from their school? What if they're technically the best basketball player in their schools history? Are they therefore an elite basketball player, and an elite performer? I would say no, observably and measurably not.
Meaning - they clearly are doing something correct and are not beholden to what we feel is “fair”. They aren’t doing anything illegal, so there is no problem.
Perhaps it doesn’t jive with some sensibilities, but it’s not their responsibility to cater to anyone’s sensibilities. The institutions purpose is to grow and support its pupils. Then it’s pupils pay dividends back to the institution. Anything counter to that, really doesn’t make sense.
Recently it has been well documented how Asians have a tougher admission than white Americans. Until the 1930s, and possibly longer, they had a Jewish quota. While Jim Crow laws were being dismantled, there was 1 (one) black student in the 1958-class. Then there was the gender quotas.
Harvard - as other private universities - are benefiting from favorable tax treatment, and from society acknowledging their education for a number of different professions (law and medicine are obvious examples). But even without that, society has a legitimate interest in regulating against discrimination in private universities.
Whether or not someone or some organization is successful, for some definition of success, is a very different question of whether they are behaving morally. And yes, the public certainly can and should point out immoral actions by such institutions. There are countless examples of companies and governments that were successful with some policy that was widely regarded as immoral.
Isn't there an active lawsuit claiming their use of race in the admissions process crosses the line?
Wouldn't that mean that they haven't yet been determined to be doing anything illegal? If you do things against the law they're still illegal even if you haven't been caught.
Good/Correct as in a self subsidized oligarchy?
The college application process screens for more than just measured ability, and forcing colleges to take on people who aren't a good culture fit changes the experience at that college for the worse.
The lottery doesn't mean everyone who applies gets the exact same chance. It could choose among the qualified, perhaps using some sort of weighted system.
And just to stave off the criticisms - yes, they made the test much easier.
A lot of kids take those tests. The fact that there are thousands of perfect scores isn't necessarily a problem as long as the score distribution looks reasonable, right?
Edit: Addressing the comments about how it's all about joining that Alumni circle.
I've attended an ivy-league alumni dinner party recently (graduates from multiple "high profile", internationally acknowledged institutes). Save for several senior people with interesting stories, most others were working on their "next Lyft"/"next Airbnb"/"Facebook for %s"/"%s but with AI!" startups. Everybody had a suit and a nice lapel pin to show for it though. Some even wore a bow-tie, no less!
At some point it stops being a club of outstanding members of society, and instead, it becomes a "I took a huge loan to buy my way into this" club. Make of it what you will.
The whole point of this song and dance with Harvard is that the education alone isn't the point of going to Harvard. You can probably learn most of what Harvard teaches from free sources online + youtube lectures.
An exclusive club grants you great networking potential, which is why people want to go, and why Harvard wants to keep strict control over who/how it lets people in. If they didn't exert Quality Control over the network, their primary selling point would be weakened. If you go to Harvard and pay full price with merely the intent of getting an education, you've totally missed the point and they probably don't want you.
Harvard knows this and is uncomfortable saying it out loud, and its also the reason for this ongoing mess.
(If Harvard truly believed that they were giving a world class education and that the education made all the difference and made the world a better place, they'd use their gobs of money to expand and teach more people. This would ruin the exclusivity.)
The people who are really screwed are those who paid $50k a year for a low-demand major at some private school no one's heard of.
Well, for example prestigious clerk positions are filled from Yale Law and Harward students. If you study law elsewhere, the most ambitious positions are effectively closed. Look at supreme court and see which school are represented.
Ivy league causes people trust you more. There are prestigious places that stock from almost exclusively from those schools.
So yeah, it attracts all those highly ambitious kids for a reason.