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Nearly half of white Harvard students are athletes/children of alumni/donors (thedp.com)
153 points by gist 22 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 149 comments

You want to revitalize rural America AND solve this tricky problem of too many qualified kids, not enough spots?

Let's bring a new wave of land grant universities. The feds own like ~90% of Nevada, let's put a top tier research university smack dab in the middle of it. Put up some new facilities, draw faculty away from other top tier universities/the rest of the world, and start pumping all these bright, but otherwise undistinguished kids into a place where they CAN distinguish themselves. All that sweet, sweet federal cash flows in, and you can bet people will set up shop around it. For the feds, it's a cheap investment, but one that has paid for itself a thousand times over.

Make it a public bell labs in the desert, then do it across rural America. Huntsville (kind of) did it, why can't we do it again?

> The feds own like ~90% of Nevada, let's put a top tier research university smack dab in the middle of it.

The feds own 85% of Nevada because it's mostly desert and it's not practical to live there; nobody claimed it during the homesteading era, so it was left to the BLM. There's a whole lot of wide-open sagebrush country striped with the occasional mountain range, and very little water. It would be an expensive place to run a college town, since you'd have to truck in literally everything you needed to live on from somewhere else.

I hear you, but lobbyists will get wind of the money and find a way to divert it into their coffers.

"Why should the fed open a school in Nevada when you can just give that money to us (University of Nevada). We promise we'll give x% of the money out in scholarships!"

The con continues.....

What about the bright kids that can't afford to move away?

What about the crumbling infrastructure in those rural areas which falls apart if you made any attempt to move people out there?

Or what do you do about the poor rural folk you displace through what is essentially extremely sudden government gentrification?

Honestly we have plenty of universities, many of which are not Harvard but still have incredible professors and bright students. Instead of building universities in the middle of nowhere, we should take that money to make higher education (whether it's trade or not) free and help fund people move to those universities. This is a far quicker solution than hoping to fix the problem 20-30 years from now when we need a solution today.

> Instead of building universities in the middle of nowhere, we should take that money to make higher education (whether it's trade or not) free and help fund people move to those universities.

Do we even need people to move to physical buildings? If we improve our internet infrastructure we can offer 24/7 education to everyone anywhere in the country. The idea of forcing students to move to a specific place and attend classes at a specific time every day seems somewhat dated.

> Do we even need people to move to physical buildings? If we improve our internet infrastructure we can offer 24/7 education to everyone anywhere in the country. The idea of forcing students to move to a specific place and attend classes at a specific time every day seems somewhat dated.

Lambda School would like to say hello.

(no affiliation... just a fan)

As would Western Governors University(alumnus here).

When I say middle of the desert, I literally mean it. If you're living on federal land in Nevada, you're doing something wrong.

I'm also talking specifically about research universities.

I think the debate about cost should be decoupled from this, but I agree -- higher ed should be something you pay for with a summer job, not a decade plus of what amounts to federally enforced indentured servitude.

A better plan would be to take over a decommishioning military base in the plains or midwest. As someone who lives in Nevada, the infrastructure issues are exterme.

UT Austin, Notre Dame, and U of Chicago, while not all public, are fantastic universities in the deep interior of the country.

It’s a great point, although I think it’s already been done. There’s a lot of attention on Harvard in particular but there’s plenty of good education in the country. It’s just become very expensive and too focused on the perceived top 2.

I got my Master's degree in Computer Science at UT Austin while working an entry-level tech job full time. My company paid my tuition, but it was only $13,000 for the 3 years it took me to finish it, so it wouldn't have broken the bank to pay that myself if I had to. In spite of having no grants, I incurred zero debt and ended up with a degree from a distinguished program where one of the faculty members received a Turing award while I was attending.

I currently work at a recognizable big tech company side-by-side with people who have degrees from Stanford, MIT, CMU, and so forth. Many of them wracked up significant student debt to go to their schools, and my career seems to have been at absolutely no disadvantage from having gone to a much cheaper school.

Going to school now is MUCH more expensive that it was when you were there. Students now are expected to pay ~3x what you paid to go to an in-state university. If there isn't an in-state one that's good enough though (not everyone has a UT Austin), then they have to pay many times that to go to a public school in another state or a private school.

What are you talking about? UT Texas resident graduate tuition for the school of engineering is $5277 per semester for 9 hours. The degree requires 30. That works out to ~18k for the entire course of study.

Play with the calculator yourself if you don't believe me: https://tuition.utexas.edu/

So someone who takes classes for 3 years now has to pay $31,662 dollars, which is still significantly more than 13k. Also, I'm now realizing I misread your earlier post and you were completing your masters, not undergrad. I feel like the people racking up debt today are mostly doing it in undergrad, as graduate students usually pay little to no tuition and get a stipend.

If you take 9 credits per semester for three years you end up with 54 credits. You only need 30 for a Master's. Why would you do that?

> I feel like the people racking up debt today are mostly doing it in undergrad, as graduate students usually pay little to no tuition and get a stipend.

The person you were responding to specifically said their Master's degree cost $13,000 in tuition. How is undergrad relevant?

> and my career seems to have been at absolutely no disadvantage from having gone to a much cheaper school.

Because you are in an 'in demand' field. Same is true for most people who graduate from medical school. It's a ticket to a well paying job where you attend isn't of that much significance for the 'average' position. And with that 'average' position you can often catapult yourself into something better since demand for what you do is always growing and labor is typically short and constrained in some way.

Honestly, that’s great for you and I’m sure your skills and future earning potentials don’t differ as it’s all about work performance once you’re in.

But I’m sure you’ve noticed that you’re the exception from your school whereas that’s the norm for HYPS et al. That’s why people strive to go to those schools.

Do you have evidence to back up it being an exception?

The newest of those schools is 129 years old. Maybe it was done, but I don't see it being done much anymore.

Because the first thing that would happen is that people from rural areas would be squeezed out of said university.

We've seen it happen in Wisconsin. Which is why we just have a top x% of any high school in Wisconsin gets admitted rule. There are just too many poor people in, say, Milwaukee's suburbs, or Appleton, or LaCrosse. If you have to get in based on strict merit, I would not underestimate the number of, let's call them, "poor urban/suburban whites" who would outperform people in the rural areas.

Unless, of course, this school would be only for poor rural people. In which case they wouldn't do it because they'd get sued.

If you had such a place, I think admission would have to be like the Iowa/Wisconsin system. Sort of, automatic admission if you're in the top whatever percent of a high school class anywhere in US and pass a trivial test. That way, rural people could never be crowded out.

> top x% of any high school in Wisconsin gets admitted

Does this ever result in parents whose children are "on the bubble" deliberately moving to poor school districts?

ITs a great idea but if you want people to populate a new town or city you've first got to move some companies and jobs there. Once jobs are there, the people will always follow. How to get companies to move there? Provide tax incentives: companies will do almost anything to get a tax incentive.

The University goes first. Nevada has zero income tax, almost no property tax. It's about as business friendly as it gets (no 9 on some random list I found); the problem is it's a barren desert devoid of anything worth doing.

You smack a big research university into it, and bam, suddenly construction companies are there, then housing, then food, etc etc. Hopefully some new ventures get spun up by students and faculty, and now we're running.

Its not all desert. Half of Lake Tahoe area is Nevada and pretty nice mountains and water.

Or leave the desert as desert, Nature is pretty nice.

This is a fantastic idea. Economists love it too [1]

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-11-16/rural-...

Education won't fix America.

Nick Hanauer, of Second Ave. Partners, goes into some depth as to why [0], but his thesis is along Piketty's:

r>g [1].

Sure, education is a part of the solution, but as biologists say: it is necessary but not sufficient.

[0] https://www.realclearpolicy.com/2019/06/12/better_schools_wo...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Ce...

Can you explain what Piketty says about education in Capital?

Im not sure he said anything about it. Your googling will be just as good as mine.

This is desperately needed. We have:

1. An oversupply of newly minted PhD's literally waiting for tenured profs to die so that there is an opening

2. A skyrocketing demand from people looking to go to university, with acceptance rates everywhere dropping.

Connect these with building more universities. It might only be possible at the state level, look at how California opened UC Merced in 2005.

2) Isn't true any more. University enrollement peaked in 2011, and isn't expected to reach that level again for at least a decade or more. There are plenty of accetable state schools with 100% or near 100% acceptence rates.


> 1. An oversupply of newly minted PhD's literally waiting for tenured profs to die so that there is an opening

Wait, a work-relief program for ... PhDs?

Surely they are intelligent enough to find some form of employment beyond what Uncle Sam can only provide.

Sorry, you want the government to spend money? No, no, that simply won't do.

Please don't take HN threads further into generic ideological flamewar. Those discussions are always the same and they always get nasty.


Isn't that all the government does?

Given the recent data on racial admission percentages [1], it appears that out of all the demographics non-elite non-legacy whites face the hardest time getting into Harvard, due to half of the already below societally-proportionate spots being reserved for legacy admissions.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21130080

So... everyone's right. The strata being argued about isn't primarily about race, its economic and social class. We are super good at avoiding this in the US.

I was just about to point out, but I didn't know if people would take it the wrong way, that the number of blacks who are non-rich and non-athlete is vanishingly small. Not only at Harvard, but I'm pretty sure this is the case at most universities.

The point being that whether you're white or black, being rich or being an athlete is the best way into Harvard. If you're neither, I think you're pretty much screwed. There really are just way too many intelligent students out there these days, you need something more than just a test score.

Just the sad reality nowadays.

It's a natural outcome of the limited space I think.

Given loads of plain smart people and limited ability to measure the difference between them what measures can you use? Extra curricular activities seem like a decent measure simply because they take up time so all other things being equal the student who had a time consuming extra curricular activity was probably either a) better at time management, b) harder working, or c) smarter and able to complete the same work in a shorter amount of time.

Or extra curriculars mean you were rich, or at least your parents were enough to afford you doing other things.

That really depends on the extra curricular though. There's plenty that aren't expensive at all: Scouting, (most) sports, and volunteering. Those all demand mostly time commitments with small outlays for relatively cheap equipment.

A substantial percentage of legacy and athlete admits had grades which were too low for regular admission.

"There really are just way too many intelligent students out there these days"

Why can't they simply ratchet up the difficulty level? Sort students by ability, take top N, however many needed to fill the seats. Like grading on a curve, but the right way.

The good students already saturate the bullshit metrics. We would need a pipeline of way more extra hard high schools, and that's another ethics problem. It would be harder to justify the legacy students then, that's a plus.

Also, let's be real, jobs are too moronic for all this. The American economy is a joke that doesn't deserve a more vicious rat race, and that's all we'd get from this. There's no "talented (10^-n)the" way out of our current predicament.

Let's be careful about what we mean by "rich" here. Just being in a top 1% kind of level of wealth isn't enough, you need to be able to make 7+ figure donations.

Well, just going by the article, they defined it as 500 grand a year. Not sure how they got that number, (?), but that's the number they gave.

I'm just pointing out that the percentage of whites who are not athletes, and whose parents make less than 500 grand is pretty small. And the percentage of blacks matching that profile is even smaller.

And if you really want to see some depressing numbers, factor out the females. That is, count up the number of white males who are not athletes whose parents make less than 500 grand. Or for a real laugh, count up the number of black males who are not athletes whose parents make less than 500 grand.

This is just the ugly reality of how our society is currently structured. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying that in this society, these sorts of things have a lot to do with money. More to do with money than race even, which is saying something.

There's two different things:

Rich enough to make the Dean's List, and then their comment about how rich legacies and athletes are. Legacies and athletes are, per the article, 43.2% and 20% likely (respectively) to have parents who make more than $500k/year.

But a "mere" $500k/year is not going to get you enough money to donate enough to get your kid on the dean's list. That's going to take donations of more than $1M. Quite possibly more than $5M, or at least a teaser donation of $1M and some plausible belief from Harvard that you have the means to make more donations than that.

This is why there was that scandal with the fake athletes -- because just paying the $150k or so to get your kid a fake record as a polo player or whatever is very cheap compared to the amount of money you need to donate to a top-tier college before they'll give your kid significant admissions preference.

For the most part, dean's list donations are out of reach of all but the ultra-rich, maybe the 0.1% or so.

Even if you ignore the legacy admissions issue, if you count Jews as a separate group, gentile whites are the most underrepresented group at Harvard.

Wow. That seriously devalues a Harvard diploma in hiring decisions.

Especially since Harvard is easy once you get in. 97.5% graduation rate. It's not like they're flunking out the losers among the legacy admits. UC Berkeley is around 90%.

IMHO, degrees from any school should by default be devalued. Certain departments/majors within certain schools sometimes maybe have some value.

1. Elite schools are motivated to have high graduation rates in order to be competitive in various rankings.

2. Most programs at elite schools are not incentivized to take a tough love approach since it reduces enrollment numbers and ultimately funding. Popular programs get a pass on this.

3. For most elite school grads, if you’re hiring them for their education, then your usually hiring for the wrong thing. The best elite school grads, regardless of major, will get you access to better networks. The median elite school grad will get you someone who is aggressively willing to jump through hoops for rewards. If you don’t know how to capitalize on that, don’t hire these people.

FWIW, some majors at Harvard are definitely not easy — they just cull the weaker students early.

And that's the overall number. Berkeley's College of Engineering programs have lower graduation numbers.

P.S. It shouldn't be a good thing to brutally weed out students. Facts are facts though.

It's not about weeding anyone out. Or at least not trying to.

An Engineering degree that really teaches stuff will be difficult. And some students will find it is not for them and leave. Preferably early before they have invested too much in it.

There are some serious problems with the pathways to engineering majors though. I don't know if it is still the case, but I remember my state school expected calculus pre-calculus in high school as the norm for engineering majors. To get to that level of mathematics in high school you had to progress from to Alegbra II to FST, to pre-calc or calculus, but you were only required by the school system to take up through Alegbra II, which a lot of students got to in 9th grade. That means that you had to decide to be an engineer at age 14 and keep taking math.

The reason why students exit engineering programs isn't just the material- it can be a terrible teacher (hello physics professor with a thick accent that would insult their students for being stupid), the culture, or being underprepared for the material with no clear path forward to becoming prepared.

> To get to that level of mathematics in high school you had to progress from to Alegbra II to FST, to pre-calc or calculus, but you were only required by the school system to take up through Alegbra II

What's FST?

In my district, students were required to go through Algebra II and Geometry. We were also required to take three years of math. As a result, kids who took Algebra I in middle School went Algebra II->Geometry->Precal, while those who didn't went Algebra I-> Algebra II->Geometry. One group had the requirements by default, and the other didn't need to decide until senior year.

FST was functions statistics and trig. Might not be a thing anymore.

We required 3 years of high school math, but if you did algebra in 7th grade it counted toward the requirement. A lot of higher tracked kids were done with thier math requirement by the end of 9th grade as a result.

Oh, in my district (at the time) you had to take three math classes in high school, regardless of what level you were at.

It should be a good thing to weed out bad students. It's not a good thing that there are bad students.

A Malcolm Gladwell noted in his recent podcast, the entire Ivy league undergrad cohort (17k) would fit into the incoming class at the University of Toronto (ranked ~20 worldwide in most rankings). If Harvard admission is so rigged, and the best and brightest are not making it in, maybe these numbers will do more to lessen it's social and academic cache than anything the courts could do.

I doubt these legacy admissions are going for a tech job, especially the ones that aren't that smart. They are going to go to jobs where connections and what Harvard brings can help them - politics, lobbying, the media, executive roles in nonprofits and in investment firms.

> That seriously devalues a Harvard diploma in hiring decisions.

Not even close. It's a brand and it's a good brand ... a very good brand and one of the best and it opens doors. Nobody honestly really cares about what happens behind the scenes the halo is typically that strong.

Look at it this way. If someone gets an Academy Award it's a branding that says 'you are chosen and special for some reason'. Doesn't matter if the film is good or sells the most ticket. Someone has decided it's special (or a production person/director/producer is special) and that's that.

When someone buys a luxury product sure it's most likely a more quality product but that is not what they are paying for or they care about. Not only do they not want to hear it's made in the same factor that makes things for Target but if they did hear they'd probably not care that much either.

> Especially since Harvard is easy once you get in. Did it occur to you that perhaps people rise to what is expected of them and are perhaps more fearful of failing or take advantage of all sorts of help so they do graduate? Or that they work really hard because they are there and are afraid to flunk more so than at a lesser university? It's also obvious that there are probably 10 people that could 'do the work' for those that are admitted. It has never been about the best and smartest at any upper tier college. And there isn't even a way to measure that anyone who thinks top grades and testing is what matters hasn't dealt with enough people in the world who are productive, have achieved but do not test well.

Full disclosure, I’m an undergrad at Yale.

I think that the high graduation rates at Ivy schools are fundamentally misleading in a couple of ways, if your takeaway is that getting a degree there must be easy. First of all, for academic and demographic reasons, most people at these schools would still have overwhelming odds of graduating elsewhere. Broadly speaking, it’s not the “dumbest” kids who flunk out, but those who are least likely to be in college in the first place.

The comparison of Berkeley/MIT/Caltech is interesting in that their attrition rate is much higher than HYP etc. IMO that reflects well on academic standards for the “alt ivies”, but I think the crucial point here is to recognize that academic programs have substantial influence in this regard.

Most obviously, there’s the difference in grading across fields, with STEM being the least forgiving across the board at top institutions. Thus it’s natural that the STEM dominant institutions have higher burnout.

The second, less obvious piece has to do with rules around changing programs, and opportunity cost. Notably most of the Ivy schools (and many alt schools) allow students to switch majors without significant hassle. Since many “soft” majors at Ivy schools are still on the FIRE/Consulting pipeline, the natural course of action for someone who’s underperforming in a more difficult program is to remain in the institution and change their major. This isn’t necessarily true for the STEM-first schools, whose humanities undergrads are less successful winding up in a lucrative east coast industry.

So I’m inclined to think it’s more about incentives than any conscious effort by the schools.

Hope I don't come off as a conspiracy nut, but:

I think it's important to remember that in the big picture of things, very, very few employers care about whether a hire went to Harvard or not.

But as it happens, the ones that do, also wield a lot of power.

I think a lot of these places only care partially about the intellectual prowess of their candidates, but also about a lot of other factors. Socioeconomic background, networks, pedigree, and what not.

Hiring the right kid from Harvard / Yale / Princeton / whatever means that he/she can be a good future resource not just because they're smart, but because they have many other attributes with considerable upsides 20-30 years down the road.

Hell, I'll put it in plain text: I think a lot of elite universities are valued in the job market because they're breeding grounds for rich elites, where the new generation of rulers can mingle and network, which is very useful for future operations. It's about grooming people for succession .

Obviously doesn't hold true for everyone there, but the ones that know how the system is rigged, will follow the rules.

I don't know man?

Just Devil's Advocate.

But what if these legacy admits are not as dumb as people think they are?

Just kind of, throwing that possibility out there.

It's less "dumb", more "trained." Ezra Klein had an excellent podcast with Daniel Markovits a couple weeks ago that touched on this--being optimized (by parents and the local culture around you) to succeed at getting to Harvard (or Yale or whatever) doesn't mean that it's the best thing for you or for society to be afforded the significant benefits that we, both consciously and unconsciously, assign to that.

the fact they are using the legacy backdoor to get in, instead of the great academics route... kinda would dictate they aren't on the same level of "smarts".

People only use the backdoor when the front one wont work.

I agree, but to clarify a point: the "nearly half" number includes athletes, legacy admits, children of faculty and big doners, whether or not they would have otherwise gotten in on academic merits. The authors estimate that only a quarter would have. I didn't read deeply enough to see if they broke that number by legacy admits only.

Does the study say that they "used the legacy backdoor"? I think most college applications just ask the applicant if any family members attended or teach at the institution. It would be pretty foolish to leave that blank if you had family members that had gone or taught there.

It's pretty amazing to me that we, as a society, are willing to accept legacy admissions. We spend so much time and energy and money trying to make sure that our educational system gives everybody equal opportunity when this one thing matters so much more than eg universal pre-k.

Because it really doesn't. The total incoming undergrad class is ~1650. Across the entire Ivy League it's around 17000. If 20% of admissiosn are affected by legacy/faculty/donors, then that's like 3400 people who wanted to go to the Ivy League who couldn't (I suspect this is a high number, but ignore that). To include all the other higher tier schools ehre this might matter, let's just call it 10,000 people affected. There are 4.3M 18 year olds in the US. This means that roughly 0.2% of people in an academic cohort will have to accept going to a slightly lower tier school then they would have otherwise due to legacy admissions.

BTW- There are a fair number of studies out there suggesting that students who are admitted to top-tier schools but don't go have no effect on longer term outcomes than those who do, so other than short term disappointment it might be a null effect.

Meanwhile, universal pre-k enables families (ane espicially mothers) the ability to return to their own work/careers faster and has been shown to improve long term academic success (although their is some question to scalability).

So between the two, universial pre-k seems like a far more important issue...

The issue with elite university admissions is that they are gatekeepers to power, so the composition of their student bodies affects us all. That said I guess you're right that pre k is more important when it comes down to it.

As a non-American, I'm unsure about some of the terminology being used here - what are "legacy admissions"?

Wow, it boggles my mind that would be accepted nowadays?!

Students admitted to a university that one of their parents went attended. Having parents(or grand parents) as alumni can help you get into many schools in the US.

In some cases, their parents having gone to the school is the only reason they got in. A lot of schools athletics programs are in similar situations as well.

Children of alumni.

It's not about allowing it – we should allow institutions to choose their own members. The problem is that we are giving them money just so they can educate rich kids.

We should eliminate government support for Harvard like tax breaks, subsidized loans and grants.

The problem is that institutions like Harvard are gatekeepers to power (eg, every sitting supreme court justice went to Harvard or Yale). So when you allow these institutions to use legacy admissions, you are establishing a hereditary power structure in the country. Which, given that our founding myth is the rejection of aristocracy, I wouldn't think people would be OK with.

What we, as a society, are willing to accept isn't really relevant to Harvard, which is a private institution.

As tharne mentioned in another comment, this isn't really true. Harvard (like all private universities) gets tons of government funding: directly via grants and indirectly via the federal loans that a lot of its students get. Society therefore arguably gets to have some say in how Harvard does business; if Harvard doesn't like that, it can stop taking federal grant money.

Add on to that the massive tax break they get on they endowment's huge investment earnings.

Harvard is a hedge fund with a school attached. They should be taxed like one.

Private institutions are bound by laws that we (society) create.

Legacy admissions make sense to me even if it's unfair. Half of the experience of a university is the student body. I think it's completely acceptable for a university to allocate a certain percentage of the student body to legacies or children of wealthy donors because they can provide networking opportunities to other students.

I think this is no different from what Harvard has been accused of with their race-conscious admissions where it seems harder for Asian students to get in than White, Black and Latino students. While practices of admittance that include anything other than merit are unfair for the individual student, this makes sense for the university to build its own image for prospective students, and its image for employers looking to recruit college grads. Students don't want to go to schools that don't have diversity and employers are looking for diversity.

University is not just about the academic lessons taught inside the classroom, or building a qualification for a career. Some of the most important lessons are taught between and outside the classroom like the social skills required to build study groups or the management skills to be in the leadership of a club. There are also meta-social learning in the abilities to socialize with people from different backgrounds in various levels of formality.

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul's School by Shamus Rahman Khan talks about how in prestigious college prep schools, students learn similar social traits from an environment that shapes them into what is received as a successful elite student.

As far as the educational system goes, I could care less about how the most elite schools go about admissions because it effects such a small amount of the population, and degrees only affect the first job of your career except if you are trying to get into med school or law school. What's more important to me is the failure of the public educational system to provide literacy when teachers are taught to use methods that harm the ability to learn phonics. https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/02/12/582465905/the-gap... What is also important to me is the impact of one bad teacher to ruin a child's belief that they can learn math or a learn a new language or music or just their own self esteem. One of the biggest problems in American schooling is that when a teacher fails accreditation to teach high school or middle school, they generally are able to teach elementary school. Teachers that do not know how to teach a given subject should not be put in front of students at more formative years where damage to an academic self-image can be more significant and impactful.

Ideally a college education would not be required for most of the workforce. Sadly our standards for a k-12 education have fallen due to a lack of care to find how to best teach students and a working environment for teachers that does not attract teaching talent or understanding of how to teach, and allows for mediocrity. There are great teachers in the system, but many of them are burning out due to long hours of teaching, grading, and re-accreditation and low pay.

Yeah, it makes sense, a lot of the appeal of these places is tied up in their admitting the children of the rich and powerful, but it's still messed up.

As a clueless european why is that a problem if we are talking about a private university? Wouldn't that be more of a problem if it was a public university funded by public (tax) money?

There's really no such thing as a true private university in the US, at least not with respect to any of the schools in the of the rankings. All top schools receive a ton of government money in the form of research grants and other investments and partnerships. Then you add in all the federal money that comes in via the students from federally subsidized student loans, grants, etc and what you have is effectively a school where the funding is public and the management and accountability is private. Much like with banks in the US, the upside is privatized and the downside is socialized.

Note - this is not a defense or critique of their policy with regard to race and admissions. I don't believe that it's just or reasonable to use race to lower or raise the bar for anyone. In an ideal world, admissions would be merit based and you'd let the chips fall where they may. The fact is that certain groups place higher or lower levels of value on a specific type of educational achievement. There's nothing wrong with that. In some subcultures in the US, the best thing a young person can do in the eyes of their parents and community is join the military. There are other cultures where that is seen as a bad path. We shouldn't be in the business of telling others what is or is not in their best interests. That should be left to individual families and communities.

There is a large group of obsessed upper-middle class parents that believe you must go to Harvard (or another Ivy League school) to succeed in life.

Sadly, the jobs that are most dominated by nepotism and politics (law, government, academic professors of softer subjects) it really does help to go to Harvard or similar and have the brand name. Value-producing industries in the private sector are not exclusively merit-based, but it's much more likely you can go from the bottom to the top by starting a competitive business. And starting a business does not require going to Harvard.

> you must go to Harvard (or another Ivy League school) to succeed in life.

For certain career paths it helps a lot.

It also depends on where you live. In the Northeast there is a very tangible class system based on where you went to school. This still exists on the West Coast but it's much less intense unless you are going for big-time VC money or working in law or finance.

But raising $100m from VCs is a lot easier if you did go to Harvard.

I totally agree, but it is still possible. If you build a $100m revenue per year business starting from nothing, no one can take it away from you in America (currently at least, who knows about the future). Many people have successfully done this.

However, I have yet to see anyone become a Supreme Court Justice who went to community college. I believe almost all of them went to Harvard or Yale...

> a Supreme Court Justice who went to community college

To be fair, you cannot become an attorney just going to community college. You need a graduate degree. Graduate school admissions do not have the legacy admissions preference that undergrad does. While true that all current SC judges went to Harvard or Yale, they did not necessarily go for undergrad. For example, Clarence Thomas went to Conception Abbey Seminary for undergrad, which is a little-known school in Kansas.

IMO I should not have to go to any college to become an attorney. California does not require attending law school to take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney. The law is written on paper, case law is produced by the courts, and the techniques for comprehending and using law are not rocket science and can be self-taught using books.

Expecting that only top-tier colleges can train good lawyers is elitist nonsense, just more gate keeping by the upper class.

I actually agree with you! Most cases should be able to be settled in court just by the two parties at odds. If the law is too complicated so as not to allow that, the law is what needs to change, not the individuals seeking redress.

oddly, those states have already been compiled and in modern times you appear to be correct(i didnt go to too much effort to break them down by years served)


Many private universities in the US, including Harvard, have a reputation that is built not only (or even primarily) on the quality of their undergraduate education but on the quality of their research output. The funding for this research, which includes compensation for professors, grad students, and operational overhead, forms a significant component of the revenue of the institution overall. It frequently dwarfs undergraduate tuition revenue and often constitutes the largest single component of institutional revenue.

A substantial portion of this funding is federal. It's in the public interest for the positive effects of being educated at a well-funded research institution to be allocated "fairly" and since that funding comes from public sources it is well within the purview of the government to regulate that allocation.

In the US it is illegal in many cases for private business to discriminate based on race, despite them being private businesses. This case is about whether that extends to universities.

With regards to public policy: there's not much of a problem (except to the extend that public policy props up private schools).

But should it not cause us to re-evaluate how much we respect the university and it's degrees?

Harvard receives federal funding through student tuition assistance and research funding.

Because in many respects it's the #1 University in the world where there is intense global competition amongst students to get it and they believe Harvard admission would be determined in a merit based fair manner.

Harvard is essentially funded by public money since it has a special tax status. Tax exempt groups have stricter guidelines for behavior relative to purely private, for-profit groups.

So Harvard makes it overly hard for non-athlete/legacy white kids to get in relative to other groups, while also favoring them when they're from those categories?

Speaking as an alum who will never donate or allow his kids to apply there: fuck them.

This is basically a summary of the Duke paper from a few days ago.

See discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21037400

I'm sure there are plenty of dipshit kids who got admitted based on their family's history and donations to the school. I'm also sure that if a couple people meet at Harvard and have a kid, that kid has a way-better-than-average chance of being really smart - smart enough to get into Harvard anyway. The genetic lottery creates a big self-selection bias here. I'd be interested in seeing more stats that could help illuminate what percent of this group (alum, athletes) are dipshits vs genetic lottery winners who are legitimately worthy.

These kinds of stats are basically impossible to produce while children of alumni get to skip the queue and get in much more easily.

If what you say is true, the problem seems easily fixable -- makes children of alumni enter through the normal channels, and not mention their parents, and if they will get in if they deserve to.

No university would ever do that (effectively anonymize applications) because donations would plummet to almost zero. If there are no perks - one of the big ones being your kids have a good chance of being admitted - what's the point?

No US University. This type of thing doesn't happen in the UK (although I will admit, it wouldn't shock me if a few similar things happen on the quiet).

only 26 percent of the white athletes, legacies, dean’s listers, and faculty children Harvard admitted between 2009 and 2014 would still make the cut based on, say, their grades.


> These kinds of stats are basically impossible to produce while children of alumni get to skip the queue and get in much more easily

Only some schools take into account legacy status, so wouldn't it be possible to do comparisons between schools that do and schools that do not to get those kind of stats? Many students apply to the same school their parents went to even if being the child of alumni does not give them a boost.

Of the top 10 universities in the world, according to US News & World Reports 2018 list, 4 take into account legacy status (Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Stanford) [1].

6 do not (MIT, UC Berkeley, Oxford, Caltech, Cambridge, University of Washington).

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/16/top-universities-that-do-not...

The parents who buy there way in probably had the same done to them. If you have money you are more likely to avoid the poorer middle class kids who got in based on grades so marriages would be between two people who bought there way in because the other students are less likely to socialize over study.

The Duke paper addresses this point directly:

"Our model of admissions shows that roughly three quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs."

As this article states, there are a lot of non-hyper intelligent people at Harvard. My personal experience with the many people I know from that school back up the assertion that many are there for purely non-intelligence or ability related reasons.

I'd argue genes are negligible here anyway. Just exposure to such elite high-performing family and friends goes a long way to making high-performing people.

The barrier to entry for a lot of people isn't even being good/smart enough -- it's being familiar with or having the resources to navigate the bureaucracy that obfuscates the opportunities which are ostensibly open to "everyone".

I don't know why you're referring to the kids as "dipshit" This article is not about them, it's simply about the admission process not being based solely on intellectual merit. Leave the kids/students out of it.

intelligence is estimated to only be ~50% inherited. the rest is environmental. Based on that... half the legacy admits would be there based on intelligence, the other half would be there based on parental choice of university and might not be qualified.

It would be interesting if they got different diplomas depending on what basis they were admitted. BA(History, Sports), BSc(Chemistry,Donor), MD(Legacy). I'd be happier if the doctors at least we're not legacy advantaged. Of course, legacy might be a determinative factor in life success, but I'd prefer the doctor who got in on academic merit alone.

>Of course, legacy might be a determinative factor in life success, but I'd prefer the doctor who got in on academic merit alone.

I agree with you, but to play devil's advocate: I think it's very possible that the legacy child of two doctors becomes a better doctor than a more academically-talented student.

> I think it's very possible that the legacy child of two doctors becomes a better doctor than a more academically-talented student

Mom & Dad doing patient diagnosis & surgery at home to bond with the kids...

Sounds more problematic than a software engineer opening up the editor.

I cannot tell if you're being serious, but I'd doubt the scenario you described is commonplace.

Do you think that academic talent implies success in medical practice? It is a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Although that would be admitting that the initial (possibly biased) selection is more important that the actual education.

I often felt my university studies were something to overcome rather than a process of education. As in, I taught myself to overcome a series of obstacles.

By the surprising number of bad doctors I would hope academic merit wasn't the only factor. A good doctor needs more and the smartest are more suited to research and curing cancer rather than seeing 100 people a day in a walkin environment with runny noses.

I'm lumping all the selection criteria except legacy and football under the banner academic. Obviously those who just pass exams make poor doctors, but I didn't think we were arguing about that.

I think those that ace the test make bad doctors. Those who barely pass might even make better doctors because they had to socially navigate the system where someone who aced just studied.

< The study, published on Sept. 11, concluded that only one-quarter of these students would have received admission had it not been for their advantageous circumstances.

I can see legacy status being referred to as an "advantageous circumstance." But being a D1 recruited athlete takes years of dedication and hard work. It isn't some circumstance that someone finds him/herself in.

yeah, unless you're a fake athlete. how many professional athletes have come out of Harvard?

Probably not as many as D1 athletes from schools that are less prestigious/academically rigorous. But that's probably partly because the non-athletic options for Harvard grads are so plentiful. Also, just because they're not all going to the big leagues doesn't mean that they didn't work very, very hard to be attractive recruits for a top D1 school. That was my point, and isn't undercut by the fact that most do not go on to compete professionally.

So the system is working exactly as intended. The question is why do certain companies value students from schools like Harvard and Yale when they know many of those students are fairly average or even stupid? Clearly, it's not about achievement but about lineage and social connections.

I would love to see a lawsuit arguing that any school that takes federal funds can't have legacy admissions.

That's probably where we're headed. If this isn't already required by law (I'm genuinely unsure), I suspect this would be a rare case where Congress could easily muster bipartisan support to make it so.

Oh I wouldn't count on that; I mean if it came to a vote maybe but it wouldn't.

Lawsuits are not the way to solve this. That would require the judiciary to basically create a new law, which is the job of congress.

Legacy admissions (i.e. institutionalized nepotism) and institutional advancement (i.e. institutionalized bribery) are anachronistic. Given universities are tax exempt, it seems reasonable to require those wanting to keep these programs pay taxes on their businesses and endowments.

Harvard is not as a charity designed just to produce the brightest minds. Its a private club for the rich and powerful. Yes they invite a lot of very smart and ambitious people, but educating smart people only part of its core mission. If you don't like it don't apply, stick to one of the regular schools which only take the highest grades.

Is it possible that jews, asian-americans, and academic faculty and donors place a greater emphasis on adademic education than other demographics, and raise their children in a way that makes them more likely to be successful in academic settings?

Sure, its possible that they place "greater emphasis on academic education" etc., but then you have to ask yourself what is the reason behind this.

As an Asian American who has had good academic success, my best guess is its socioeconomic. Asians who came to the US in the 70s - 80s often were highly educated, upper middle class, and they had resources to raise their kids towards academic success. They certainly faced some struggles, but were not socially disadvantaged in the way that other minority groups in the US have been.

You may not have meant it this way, but your post reads like a racist dog whistle.

Suggested title edit: {athletes|children of {alumni|donors}}.

Time for unpopular facts: Harvard is more proximate to Europe. Conversely, the UC system favors Asian international students over all others. One could argue Harvard is at least pro-US by comparison. Which is ironic considering they're a private institution, while the UC system is state-funded.

What's especially interesting to me is, based on Asian-American population demographics, those who feel most slighted by Harvard are probably on the West Coast.

According to UC Berkeley (https://internationaloffice.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files...), in 2018, they had 6569 international students enrolled out of a total of 42,519 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_California,_Berk...).

This means that 15% of the UC population was international.

On the contrary, Harvard admits about 21% international students: https://www.collegefactual.com/colleges/harvard-university/s....

By that metric, UC berkeley is way more pro-America than Harvard, because UC berkeley educates more Americans as a percentage of its class.

You should probably attempt to cite facts when making statements.

Too lazy to break out the stats, but a fair comparison would be international undergrad and grad as opposed to the aggregate.

Harvard is actually a large graduate school that happens to teach some undergrads. Berkeley's main purpose is undergrad education.

He said UC system, your data is only for UCB.

Not saying his opinion is not baseless or wrong, but your rebuttal is flawed as well.

You're not wrong. The assumption was that UCB is broadly representative. Looking at the full system data: https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/infocenter/fall-enrol...

Given my own knowledge of the UC system, berkeley seems the most international, which is why I thought simply citing berkeley would be enough. But, point taken. Let's look into the system data.

The total UC enrollment is 286271. Of this, there are 40219 Non-resident international students, which means there are 14% international students in the UC system as a whole. Thus, my using just berkeley actually shifted the data in my opponent's favor, since -- as I hypothesized -- Berkeley does indeed have more international students as a percentage of enrollment.

Thanks for the data.

Campus-wise, my anecdotal observation would be Irvine or Davis has most of international students by percentage, though.

According to the data gp linked, Irvine and Davis are 16% and 27% white. If you were assuming all non-whites at Irvine or Davis were not American, let this be a teachable moment.

Perhaps you're right. I haven't visited either in years! When I was there last, UC Irvine had the most ethnic Asian students, but they were mostly Americans. That may have changed.

>Time for unpopular facts: Harvard is more proximate to Europe. Conversely, the UC system favors Asian international students over all others. One could argue Harvard is at least pro-US by comparison.

How does favoring Europeans over Asians make it "pro-US"? Neither of those populations are American.

Also UC doesn't favor Asians. It favors high test scores, as it should.

Right. By admitting mainly legacies and the old-rich, Harvard is just doing its patriotic duty.

Imagine having a mental model of US demographics so bad that you think all Asian-Americans live on the West coast.

Or couldn't apply in the easteen us because it's too far.

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