At any of the most elite universities there are many more qualified applicants than there are spots. For example, Harvard could fill its undergrad ranks with valedictorians alone, twice over. Thus, the fair thing to do would be to either (a) drastically increase the size of the incoming classes, or (b) set a minimum level of objective criteria (e.g. test scores, class standing, etc.) and then just run a lottery from those qualified students.
But instead, the admissions offices at schools run a system much worse than random. It's a system that's highly subject to pay-to-play access (and usually not the outright fraud kind, but more the endow-a-chair kind) while at the same time allowing the universities to keep up the charade that it is all merit based. Even if there weren't undo influence, the current efforts to maintain "diversity" (and not just the racial kind, but the kind where we need 5 cello players and 7 chess club champions, etc) means the admissions criteria is already completely arbitrary if you meet the basic (albeit still tough) academic requirements.
The reason this won't change, though, is the primary purpose of today's elite universities is to maintain social stratification. If universities did the fair thing and had a lottery for all qualified applicants, it would mean they would have to admit that they are not the objective arbiters of "potential" they purport to be.
- Live in a rich metro area? Now you have access to things like internships & research opportunities not available in low-SES areas.
- Parents have high-status jobs? Now you have access to experiences offered by your parents' friends and colleagues, for example, to do research at a local university lab if your parents are professors.
- Don't have to work summers? Now you can take a "finding yourself" trip or volunteer to build housing in Africa or whatever it is these days.
It's much easier to engage in extracurriculars that show how great/community-oriented/socially-conscious/talented at music/sports/research/debate/whatever you are when you grow up in an upper- or upper-middle-class family in a wealthy-enough neighborhood to parents with strong social and professional networks.
This is the social stratification that's perpetuated by elite school admissions processes, it's the top-20%, not the top-1%. It's not any less dangerous, and in fact may be more so -- and the income numbers alone don't tell the full story.
Lastly -- those wealthy enough to endow a chair don't need Harvard to perpetuate social stratification, they will simply inherit enough wealth to do so!
That said, I think AOs do put too much emphasis on research/publications. In my opinion, being able to do research in high school usually means that your parents have connections to whatever labs nearby -- and students do menial work to just get their names on a paper. There are high school students who do conduct groundbreaking, impactful research, but they are much rarer.
Fundamentally, it risks their brand.
I think the real answer may still be the open sourcing of curriculum and teaching through online courses. Completing an education at Harvard should be inherently valuable whether or not you were selected for it. This is meritocratic but also realistic, I think.
There is already a lottery to select which students among the thousands who apply will be offered admission. It's just not uniformly random.
This is incorrect, and risks imbuing agency to a thing that is really much dumber than that. Nobody is trying to maintain social stratification. The reason for the byzantine admissions system is that the universities are trying to maintain their own stratification. Harvard is Harvard because it's hard to get in, and the people who go to Harvard tend to get high status jobs, like President of the United States. Harvard has the admissions process that it does, precisely because it wants to maintain its own image, and for no other reason.
If they care about helping rich people or educating students, those things are ancillary to the prime directive: maintaining their brand. This is the axis around which all such decisions revolve.
I think this is a valid argument overall but all valedictorians aren't made the same. My alma mater isn't high tier at all (NC State) but a huge chunk of my entry class was valedictorians...from tiny rural high schools with a graduating class of 50 (mine was a suburban high school with a graduating class of 40).
> the primary purpose of today's elite universities is to maintain social stratification
I think that this is their prerogative. But society should change, not the same ~10 universities.
If that's their prerogative, then they should come out and say it instead of pretending it's not true. Also, shouldn't we as a society at large take a better look at whether Federal funding is best used to maintain social classes?
colleges make it very clear that there are certain factors that weigh heavily. one of the legal factors is race. one of the unspoken factors is having donor parents/alum. now we know that another factor is direct bribes to admissions staff, which one could have guessed was happening under the table already
everyone who applies wants to be in that club with, not the smartest or most “meritful”, but the most powerful families/children (sometimes the same, often not) - and why isn’t family money considered a merit?
many of these colleges are businesses/hedge funds and they are looking to increase their AUM and ROI. I agree that advertising this core business as a meritocracy seeking to educate the brightest is false advertising
Alan Dershowitz reacts to the college admissions scam
It is very easy: just keep increasing the minimum cut off point. If you have N spots and 2xN people met the admission requirements, you simply bump up the admission requirements until for the N spots there are only M candidates where M < N. Now you have (N-M) spots and 2xN-M candidates. So you relax the admission requirements until the spots are filled. If at any point you have more people that fill the requirements than you need to fill you repeat the process for the new N.
Or you could do a tennis tournament ( if you have more than 2x applicants). Randomly pick two applications. Compare them head to head. The winner goes to the next round. The loser goes to the 2nd pile. When the total number of the people in a round is less than the number of the spots, everyone in the round gets accepted. Now we repeat the same path for the second pile, etc.
Here's how Wharton is using its SF campus:
I had college paid for in full by my parents, and they also were able to provide a good portion of the down payment on my house. My parents aren’t exceptionally wealthy, but they have been able to give my siblings and I a very good head start on life. And if they were wealthier, they would have been able to provide even more advantages to us. The whole system is rigged, and has been for a very long time.
Caring for and providing as much of an advantage to your kids as one is able is a basic human (one could even argue 'mammalian') behavior. I'm disappointed that the narrative is trying to label such hard-coded behavior as everything from 'evil' to 'frowned upon'.
The problem isn't so much that it is frowned up or declared evil, but it's that we have somehow built the worst of both worlds: we are most definitely not a "privilege-free" meritocracy, but we like to pretend that we are. The British aristocracy gave their kids all the advantages they could, too, but at least everyone knew that system was unfair and the concept of "noblesse oblige" came out of that knowledge. We've replaced noblesse oblige with "I got all my success through my own brilliance so screw your lazy ass."
I'm not suggesting we return to an aristocratic system, but I am suggesting we fully acknowledge the role of unfair advantage, and luck, in anyone's success, in addition to their own skill and hard work.
One of the things I found most interesting about the current scandal is that one of the parents paid over a million dollars to commit this fraud. With numbers that big you have to wonder why they just didn't give a donation that large - probably would have had a similar effect. I think one main reason is that a donation would make everyone say "Oh, well your kid got in because of your huge donation." (See Jared Kushner). Committing the fraud allows the fiction that it was just skill and hard work that was the reason for the acceptance to continue.
If you go back in history, I believe you'll find that most socially advantaged people simply thought they were inherently better than others. "I worked harder", whether true or not, is a better narrative.
That's true now, is it not? It's certainly a common view. People who are rich deserve it; they are more deserving. They're better people. They must be, because how else would they be rich? In the US meritocracy (and indeed, many others), anyone who has done well must have done it through merit because that's how the system works, so they must be a better person.
Modern society may have its flaws, but I do think this particular historical trend is positive.
The political system is currently having a meltdown because it has done an excellent job of eliminating the non-rich, but an absolutely terrible job of finding rich people with real merit.
So we've had a few years of entitled morons - not an exaggeration, in any way - from all the best schools and universities doing and saying incredibly stupid things.
And yet... the polish remains untarnished. Oxford and Cambridge are still considered ivy-festooned havens of academic excellence, and not bought-and-paid-for finishing schools for academically mediocre plutocrats.
A handily supportive media means many voters still trust and respect the plutocrats, in spite of the evidence that they're essentially just self-serving wasters, and not too bright at that.
It's too late to return to an aristocratic system, because we already have one. So, by all accounts, does the US - although both are camouflaged by an expediently deceitful narrative of tough self-made meritocracy which is wholly dishonest.
I agree with you that providing with your kids is a basic human behavior. My fiancés parents fled their country to come to the USA to give themselves and their kids a better live. A lot of people work hard because they want to provide that for their family. I think that is productive and great.
But there is the opposite side of it shown here. People abuse their power and wealth to provide a very clearly unfair advantage. And to make it worse, a lot of society rewards it. I have been in conversations where company X only hires from Ivy Leagues and 4.0 GPAs, and there is a very perceived notion that having such an education will get you places you can't otherwise do it.
One of the brightest and best coworkers I worked with had an average GPA from a state school (he was from that state), and was rejected by several employers. Personally, I look for the ~3.0 GPA student who worked through college, or can show more than just school and a 4.0 GPA. I know that student worked hard to get where they are, and that they have hit their heads against the wall to figure out something.
As with other antisocial trends, we just need to implement strategies to counter it. This is already something we do -- eg. scholarships --, so while it might sound harsh, it isn't particularly controversial. We probably need to intensify our efforts.
This is one we can and should change.
As the kids these days say, "don't hate the player, hate the game".
I am not saying that it is 'evil' but it does contribute to the wealth gap in our society. I definitely don't want it to go away, I want my children to get the same benefits that I had!
I guess my point is that the entire system is rigged and because so many people have benefited from it, including me, it's not going to be fixed anytime soon. It's important to recognize the ways in which the system is rigged so that we can level the playing field where we can.
The default state of nature is open-world. It would be nonsensical for parents to not provide for their children. At what age should parents leave babies outside to fend for themselves? When someone passes away, should their dwelling be bulldozed? These sound nonsensical, precisely because our implicit motive is to build things for subsequent generations. We have gotten to our present state due to the hard work and planning of past generations - "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." and all that.
The "rigged" bit you're referring to is that society itself operates on a closed-world paradigm based around positional goods. The winners of this zero sum game gatekeep their position, extracting work from the losers. Setting up a general race to the bottom will not affect those winning this game, for they will always find a way to mitigate any "corrective" action and keep themselves on top. But buying into the paradigm actually makes it harder for those not on top to escape it!
You should appreciate the advantages you were given, but not view them as some sort of baggage or original sin. I guarantee you the people above you certainly won't.
And as far as general reform, focusing on general "wealth" is simplistic dead-end idea. One must always be looking for ways to make specific facets of society open-world. eg focus on increasing access to education in general and ousting credentialism, not simply trying to make the beneficiaries of the status quo less predictable.
There's also nothing preventing you from creating wealth.
Like laws, forcing you to redistribute the wealth you created to people that didn't. Other than taxes, anyway.
When it was rich Chinese international students doing the cheating, most articles would almost always allude to how it was cultural and how it reflects on the general population.
Now that's it's rich American students, the reporting focuses on wealth and class and how it's an isolated incident.
>Although our school advertised our “holistic” review process, our director typically used test scores to screen applicants. His rationale was that these were “riskier” students. The only time he didn’t? If the student could pay full price to attend our institution, or a “full pay” student.
My main takeaway from this is a reminder on how reliant schools have become on gigantic, bloated tuitions to finance a large part of, if not all, their operations. Whee you need to keep paying for pricey administrators, new dorm buildings, and other likely-not-vital-for-education pieces but your state budgets have been slashed, endowment isn't paying out as much this year, and lower income students don't have access to as many loans - of course schools are going to put a preference for students from a wealthy background.
I think if you want to keep colleges fair, you need to keep their budgets more bare bones and focused on the essentials of schools (teaching and research), OR charge those who can afford the vast tuitions out of pocket with even higher tuitions to offset the payments for more qualified, but less able to pay students.
Is the value in the education that one receives, or in the the network that one gains access to? They're really both sides of the same coin: they both represent opportunity.
Ideally, we could have both – just admit all the high-achieving students from upper middle-class backgrounds. When there's no more space, just simply expand: build some dorms, hire a few more professors, etc.
But in reality, where resources are already scarce, schools face a tradeoff: do we admit the bright student from a poorer background, or the wealthier, albeit not as academically-inclined, student? Here, admissions basically become a zero-sum game.
I guess it boils down to an argument of whether intellectual capital is to be more valued, or of social capital.
It seems like there are only a few dozen U.S. colleges (43 by my count) that officially have need-blind admissions, so at any school not on this list ability to pay should be expected to be a factor.
I have that same drive. I can't imagine living with a morality that would enable me to pay bribes and falsify athletic achievement, or disability. I can't imagine involving my children in federal crimes.
There are lesser unfair practices, such as the ones the admissions officer in the article describes, and these should be fixed, too. But these lesser unfair practices are different from committing federal felonies. Especially when you are in technology entrepreneurial management, investing, or running a major law firm. It makes one wonder how deep the ethical rot goes.
Shouldn't we rather at the other end of the ladder, people who can't pay, and see to it that they can get a good education?
Overall, its well known fact that rich people's kid can chose great college as they prefer. Everything from Stanford to Harvard have seats reserved for donors.
When I found that out I was less shocked than I thought I would be. It just confirmed thoughts that I observed but failed to see.
The "pedigree" of US schools developed because the top schools have gigantic endowments from rich alumni, which allows them to build better facilities, hire top teaching talent and fund research. This is a cycle that is reinforced by alums (many at successful companies) who choose to recruit at those schools, thereby creating a new class of well-paid employees who're in a position to contribute to the endowment down the line.
For some industries like investment banking and finance, it's extremely important to do your undergrad at a "target school", where banks come to campus directly to run info sessions and do preliminary interviews. Otherwise you may not have a real shot unless you do an MBA, this time at a target school.
To prevent bribery randomly sample 1% for a retest under much stricter security.
If you must, lower standards for protected classes to even out demographics.
Rich people can afford to burn their children’s childhood on the enrichment activities and “volunteer” work Harvard requires.
Standardized testing is by far the most fair way to do this. SAT prep is not that effective and besides SAT prep is now available online for free.
The College Board and its executives make millions selling test prep materials and running a monopoly over US higher education. There's a good chance we're only beginning to discover the inherent corruption here.
In fact the problem with the US college admission system is that it's not at all objective, rather is completely subjective, thereby giving the admission committee a lot of leeway. Students, who are good in academics, are unnecessarily (biased opinion) forced to spend time on extra curricular activities, volunteering, sports etc. Not that they are not important, but I'm not convinced that they should be part of the admission criteria.
By making admissions dependent on some standardized test you will remove all, or at least most, of human involvement which leads to corruption.
So you may play by the rules, but other students are getting twice the time to complete the test. Some students are more equal than other students.
This pretty much invalidates the whole concept of the test. Unless sanity prevails, the only way for test vendors to fix the problem would be to give an absurd amount of time to everybody.
As a member of a "protected class" that is able to get very high SAT scores, I would be extremely pissed if that criterion was applied.
It isn't a matter of "if"...that is the standard now, lower scores for certain demographics...that is why I don't put Asian on anything...as a mixed-race Filipino, I can pass as some kind of Latino which is what I now "identify" with since it helps me in nearly every case imaginable...it kind of sucks, but that is the world we now live in.
I was talking about the opposite case: belonging to a class whose scores are artificially raised. If I can get excellent scores and get admitted by myself, but then everybody thinks that I got admitted due to my ethnic background, not due to my merits. Infuriating!
> it kind of sucks, but that is the world we now live in.
That certainly does not seem to be the case in Europe.
I think I follow you...that must not be fun...having everyone think you didn't deserve the spot you earned because of other undeserving "diversity applicants"
> That certainly does not seem to be the case in Europe
I was talking about the U.S. because the author of the article was talking about the U.S...I should have been more specific
There are so many types of people I would want to be around in college who might not do great in a standardized test. I'd rather have a rich set of people around with different ideas and experiences than filter down to a single test result.
Totally based on merit. No biases on income or anything else.
In short how do you pay for it given the already spiraling out of control costs of higher education?
If Spain, Italy, Germany and Sweden did it; US can do it too.
Also, weeding out people from attending university at 14 years old helps too.
Not sure it's very effective seeing the 60%+ failure rates in the first year. These people could spend that year doing something they are more suitable for.
Who gets into Harvard?
Or who gets to go to University of Washington and who gets sent to Eastern Washington University?
[edit: seems I was very clearly wrong about this]
Being part of the 0.025% isn't impressive to you?
Got any citations to back this up? Or just feel like grousing about millennials?
Goodhart’s Law is the opposite of true in quality control. What gets measured gets managed. Manufacturing defects in semiconductors, automobiles and I presume, most everything else have been trending down for decades. Businesses have KPIs for employees for a reason. Monomaniacal focus over a long period on one measure may not be the best idea, but it’s a great tool to have.
Since it's not, we could either 1) pick something that is a better predictor, or 2) give up and use a lottery.
> Studies predicting success in college for students graduating since 1980 are reviewed. SAT® scores and high school records were the most common predictors, but a few studies of other predictors are included. The review establishes that SAT scores and high school records predict academic performance, nonacademic accomplishments, leadership in college, and postcollege income. The combination of high school records and SAT scores is consistently the best predictor. Academic preadmission measures contribute substantially to predicting academic success (grades, honors, acceptance and graduation from graduate or professional school); contribute moderately to predicting outcomes with both academic and nonacademic components (persistence and graduation); and make a small but significant contribution to predicting college leadership, college accomplishments (artistic, athletic, business), and post-college income. A small number of studies of nonacademic predictors (high school accomplishments, attitudes, interests) establish their importance, particularly for predicting nonacademic success.
> SAT and ACT scores as predictors of undergraduate GPA scores of construction science and management students
> The result showed relatively strong positive correlation and predictive indices for both ACT and SAT. Thus, the hypothesis of higher UGPAs being related to higher ACT or SAT scores was supported. It was concluded that the admission committees might need to reexamine their admission requirements and/or look at ACT score more than SAT during admission.
The only other predictors that are good at predicting success are either undesirable (socioeconomic status of parents, for instance), or hard to standardize between applicants (school GPA).
You want to implement a challenge round for the SAT? Over 2 million kids took the SAT last year, many of them for the second or third time. Your proposal forces a kid to be required to retest if they're arbitrarily challenged by someone else. Or it uses a lottery to select tributes who will have to retake the exam again.
The SAT is an incredibly stressful part of an incredible stressful stage of life. Kids already take it several times to improve their scores. Your proposal adds even more elements which are out of parents' and kids' control that can potentially wreak havoc on their time and mental health. It's basically the nuclear option of attempts to improve the SAT.