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UC Berkeley inappropriately admitted students as favors to donors (ca.gov)
551 points by jbegley on Sept 22, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 433 comments

People are always going to use their money to buy status. So as long as these college offer prestige & status, people with money are going to use it to get in.

Much like doping in sports, you have two paths you can take: try to combat cheating, or accept the cheating as part of the game.

I think these universities should accept that they are providing an education, but they are selling prestige, and split their admissions into two pots: people who pay their way in and the other who earns it. And they announce ahead of time what the size of each bucket is. When you apply, you chose which path you will take and that's it, you're stuck.

The people who choose the merit path take the standard entry exams, have their grades review, etc. And the ones who do the best get in. Those who choose to pay for admission participate in a silent auction, and those willing to pay the most are admitted.

This system isn't "fair", but the outcome is effectively the same as our current setup. With the most notable difference being that, at least this system is transparent and acknowledges that X% of incoming students paid for their post.

The problem is that you can only sell prestige if there is strategic ambiguity between the two categories.

And that ambiguity is an economy: the rich slackers are seen as smart by association with the achievements of (past) students admitted by merit, and the rabble students acquire aristocratic social cache by the same token. I'm not an economist, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is a self-powering machine.

Sufficiently prestigious schools are drowning in perfect applicants. You don’t even need to admit any rich slackers. Just let some of the qualified substitute money for luck.

> Sufficiently prestigious schools are drowning in perfect applicants.

This is by design. There exist tests that can distinguish between the merely very good and the outstanding. Elite US universities go out of their ways to not use them, precisely so they can admit the merely very good legacies.

I suspect the schools are trying to curate their student body so it doesn't turn into a freak show, which would itself reduce prestige. It would be like a zoo that contains exactly one species of animal. This is the dilemma. Taking the top 1000 scorers on some particularly difficult exam, and putting them all together in one place, would be a freak show. Not because they are freaks per se, but because any monoculture of an extreme trait will turn itself into a freak show.

Also pure test based admission ends up being something around 75% asian, 15% white, and 10% others. See Stuyvesant for example[1]. For some reason Harvard feels like being 75-80% Asian would be bad for their brand so they got sued for discrimination. But Harvard is Harvard and it's hard to win a lawsuit against an institution that is that well connected.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuyvesant_High_School#Demogra...

As someone who went to one of those “pure test based” NYC schools: this is not the testament that you think it is.

The number of Black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science was an order of magnitude higher in the 1970s; the current demographics are a consequence of paid preparation being a reliable way to score highly on the SHSAT.

It’s amazing that people don’t realise this. I always think back to the study that showed the amount of books in a household was a strong predictor for IQ. Background matters a whole lot, but high performance people don’t want to hear it, because they want to feel like it’s all their own credit.

Nope. Just like money, there’s also an intellectual family bank that gets inherited. And it’s not genes, it’s access to knowledge which is purchased by capital.

It can be even more basic. Just having your own quiet space makes a huge difference to study outcomes. Someone living in a tiny apartment with a shared bedroom, the TV next door, and constant street noise is going to have a much harder time concentrating than someone with a private bedroom at the top of a detached house.

Of course genes play a part, but eugenics is mostly economic and political discrimination, not objective assessment of absolute potential.

>the amount of books in a household was a strong predictor for IQ. Background matters a whole lot...

That doesn't follow at all. IQ is correlated with parental IQ, due to genetics. Equally plausible, if not more so, than "books cause high IQ" is "high IQ causes books". Smart people a) like to read, and b) have smart children. I don't think it's likely that kids are boosting their IQ scores by cracking open their parent's book collection.

Then you’re ignoring the whole study for Intellectual convenience.

Well, you didn't provide a link to the study, and people mistaking correlation for causation is a frequent thing even in science (replication crisis).

The hypothesis "smart people are likely to buy more books, and smart people are likely to have smart children" sounds quite plausible to me. Does it seem implausible to you?

The best way to convince me that books directly increase IQ is to donate a ton of books to kids who need it, and measure the gains. (As a side effect, you would probably win a Nobel price if that worked.) My experience with charity says that actually many people are willing to donate books to charities; charities refuse them, because they already have enough books and the kids are not reading them anyway.

There are many ways how poverty can hurt intellectual development. This is not one of them.

There are many people who want to get rid of old books for kids, because the kids grew up and don't need them anymore; if you asked them to donate the books to you, you would be doing them a favor -- saving them from a dilemma between the bad feeling of throwing the book away, and the wasted space at home. If any NGO would bring a truck and say "please give us the books for kids you no longer need", the truck would be full in an afternoon. Then... according to your theory, the truck could go a few blocks further and turn hundred poor kids into Einsteins. I would be so happy if that worked! Unfortunately, it does not.

Was that study done before everyone had an internet connection?

All studies ever have been done before everyone had an internet connection.

So is household book count even a valid metric any more, since quite a lot of the world has more information at their fingertips than ever before?

Book count being a predictor isn't the same thing as book count being the cause. It is likely that instead, book count is an easy to measure attribute of a household which has many other correlative factors that contribute to success.

Perfect students are not “freaks”.

On the other hand, a Mensa gathering (not a member, myself) is one of the few situations I've been in that was hard to characterize as anything other than freakshow on earth. Shows that you can maximize a single dimension so much that you are left with people incapable of communication.

Similarly, an organization of students maximizing academic performance has a certain vibe that definitely doesn't feel "perfect". It doesn't even seem like that useful of a skill, but I'd have to know the purpose of a uni to comment further.

Mensa is for those who are insecure about their intelligence and like the idea that they can easily rank themselves above others with a number designed to check if you're mentally handicapped. I'm not surprised they can't communicate.

I always thought to myself, what if I take the test and pass it? Then what?

If I fail, that's easy. I lick my wounds and go home.

But if I pass? The shape of the distribution -- basically slicing off one end of a bell curve -- means that in all likelihood, I would be at the lower end of the IQ scale within the group, even if at the upper end within the overall population.

So I'd be taking a test and paying money for the privilege of being the dumbest person in the room. It hardly seemed attractive to me.

If you're talking about the SAT and ACT, I would challenge the idea that they can accurately distinguish between the good and outstanding. At most they provide a rough indication. I know this because I got a much higher score than I deserved to on the ACT because you can read the test pretty easily if you put yourself in the shoes of the people making it (I got a 31 overall and a near-perfect 35 on the science portion without studing)

I'm specifically not talking about the SAT and ACT since they're widely used by elite universities. Those tests top out way too early and can't reliably distinguish between the top 1% and the top 0.1% (The fraction of perfect scorers is much smaller than 1% but the standard error of measurement is way too large). The exams I have in mind are those like the science olympiads and the Cambridge STEP. STEP in particular is basically used for this purpose (olympiads are a slightly different beast).

Are you trying to get students that can pass specific kinds of tests or students that will be successful? The two aren't strongly correlated. I'd argue successful builds more prestige for the university. And let's be real, everyone knows these tests are purposefully tricky. In the real world people don't give you multiple choices and try to trick you into picking the wrong answer and then laugh at you when you picked the one try tried to get you to pick (politics aside). In classes, unless your professor is an asshole, they aren't trying to trick you. Success depends on a lot of factors well beyond what these tests measure. This is why SAT and ACT don't measure success or even academic success (as in they don't strongly correlate [0][1] with success. This source should decent correlation with first year grades but not second).

I'm not sure why one would even think an academic test could determine success. One of the biggest lies many of us have been told is that if you're just smart enough you'll be successful. Sorry, but that's not how it works.

[0] https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/predicting-college-suc...

[1] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-22/grades-v...

At the extreme end of the spectrum with quant hedge funds this actually becomes somewhat true. They expect strong academic understanding of math and make a killing by hiring those who do.

I have some useful background here that leads me to strongly disagree with you. I did well at these international science olympiads in high school. To do that I studied for the particular shape of the exam questions. I became friends with many other people who were high performers at these olympiads. Later on I got a PhD from a prestigious institution and I am now a scientist at another one. Throughout this time, I was very involved in the pedagogical work at these institutions.

One very important piece of insight I gained throughout that time is that after you use some exam to get the top 25% (ish) percent of students, the exam performance really does not matter: it does not correlate with scientific output or originality of work. If anything, I had to unlearn some of the skills that made me good at olympiads because they were severely limiting my creativity. At an olympiad you know there is a solution, while true research problems might be unsolvable and need to be approached differently.

TL;DR: Exams (selective or not, hard or not) are great at giving you the top 20% of students, but they are inherently terrible at telling you who among the top 20% will be a productive scientist or engineer.

Your anecdotal evidence is contradicted by wider evidence.

In particular the famous Benbow study [1] that established that even among the top percentile of the population there are massive differences: the top quarter percentile (99.75-99.99) was 2-3 times more likely to have authored academic research later in life, and about 1.5x more likely to have attended postgrad education, to have gone for a STEM degree, to have gone for a PhD than the bottom quarter of the top percent (99.00-99.24).

[1] https://www.gwern.net/docs/iq/smpy/1992-benbow.pdf

To update on the sibling comment I posted, after reading this study, I think it is pretty flawed. They indeed have an interesting population they have chosen to test, but to claim that they are the 1% top performers is incredibly misleading. The other 99% of their peers were never tested in the same fashion, which leads to obvious sampling and bias problems. This special population was treated differently from the other 99% of students from the very start of the study, so there is no surprise that new internal dynamics will appear among them, simply by virtue of being observed and treated as a separate group.

To start testing the validity of the claims in this paper a study needs to be performed where the strength of effect has to be considered, when comparing a similar one-percenter group and a larger ten-percenter group. My prediction is that the strength of effect would show only negligible differences, confirming my hunch that the special treatment[1] is what created the new subdivision in this new group.

More reading material on this topic would certainly be interesting, if you have anything in mind.

[1]: The special treatment in this paper being telling a kid "you are only a 7th grader, but you are as smart as a high schooler".

This is interesting, thanks for sharing it! It would take me some time to read it, but given that you seem the have already looked into this, I was wondering whether you have suggestion for a wider set of studies, a meta-study maybe.

I am asking, because if I have to choose between my empirical observations (anecdotal as they are, given it is n=1 observers), and a single piece of research without followups, I do feel justified to stick to what I have seen myself. But I am open to be convinced otherwise.

In the US the appropriate exams would likely be the qualifiers for the International Olympiads.

It those were used for admissions, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a huge market for answers (from somewhere in the production chain), stand-in test takers, etc.

> I got a much higher score than I deserved to on the ACT because you can read the test pretty easily if you put yourself in the shoes of the people making it

I don't understand why that is some secretly accessible knowledge that is only available to some. FWIW, the ACT always seemed more game-y to me what with its hard time crunches and stuff.

No, there are other ways to separate the pack. A perfect score on those tests isn't rare enough, plus you're still going to see a lot of exceptional candidates who got a few wrong.

They aren't being used, so they aren't the existing standardized tests, which are being used.

But it's not that hard to simply extend the difficulty gradient higher. Stick some math olympiad-type problems on there, for instance.

Further, the only thing that the SAT claims to be able to predict is a student’s first semester performance, and wasn’t found to be a better predictor than other factors on other measures.

Of course I can’t find a reference for that right now, but it certainly doesn’t predict college graduation rates best.


Useless. They topped out the SAT buckets at 1100.

A test that splits the top .1% of test takers vs. the top 1% likely isn't the best indicator of future career performance ( the source of university prestige ), or necessarily academic performance.

Ok, a test that splits between the top 0.01% and the top 1%. One student goes to national competitions, the other is merely a decent student at your local high school. The SAT lacks the granularity to distinguish between them.

My point was that there is likely diminishing likelihood that the a test with such granularity would return a meaningful score. One would need to include a both a wider and deeper set of subject matter that still conforms to the context of the test. Eventually such a test would pick out the best studiers of generalized aptitude tests. While studying for a test is useful in academia - it's not "The" skill.

It's much simpler to have a candidate include notable achievements on their CV including competitions and after-school programs. However, even here you'll find factors that don't correlate to future performance e.g. those with the means and desire to min-max a CV for college admittance ( A very important life skill ) may not be the best leaders, academics, or students.

While both of the above skills will be correlated to future performance there are almost certainly diminishing returns from selecting the top .1% according to a single dimension.

Curiously the list of fields medalists does not appear to contain a mathlete at present. Providing at least one datapoint that performance in math competitions may not be correlated to future (Academic) mathematics achievement.

I just included that to point out that there is a tangible difference at the high end, it’s not just “everyone getting 800 on the math SAT is similar in their mathematical ability”. Whether competition performance correlates to mathematical achievement in college later in life is unclear, although I do want to point out that many do end up becoming professors and such. Many of the rest don’t show up on the “math radar” because they major in computer science instead and get jobs in the industry.

Throughout my academic career, I've met quite a few brilliant mathematicians with no interest in such competitions. And quite a few "goes to competitions" folks with little interest in higher pursuits. Placing too much faith in any measure is fraught

I’m not saying it’s the only measure we should have. But in the context of the chain this was in I was feeling a sort of “does it really matter if we can separate these people” and I just wanted to illustrate that in actual competitions that discriminate to this level you get a meaningful difference out of it. Now, whether that is an effective indicator of success…I’m not completely sure. A lot of the math competition winners I know are doing startups and HFT, so there’s that.

> A lot of the math competition winners I know are doing startups and HFT, so there’s that.

That's in line with my experience, too. Selecting olympiads is a preference for highly competitive people. In math, at least, collaboration is much more important.

Most of 21st century Fields medal winners are IMO medalists, so that seems to contradict your hypothesis. Terence Tao, Venkatesh, Miryam were all famously young and/or good contestants.

It doesn't have to be the best, merely better than what is used now. And what is used now is some obfuscated proxies of socioeconomic status.

That’s because future career is mostly influenced by how much money your parents have.

I think admitting legacies is morally and ethically wrong but the idea that what we need is another test even harder than the SATs to distinguish the "outstanding" is misguided.

The difference between kid who gets a 1550 and a 1600 on the SAT is so marginal that calling one "outstanding" and one "merely very good" is just silly.

Is that difference the extra $20,000 parents spent on tutoring? Or is that difference actually correlated with outcomes in and after college? Doubtful.

I think what the parent comment is saying is that neither the 1550 or 1600 is "outstanding" and the SAT is a flawed exam that doesn't really get you the "genius" level kids

And my point is that no test exists which will determine who are the "genius" kids.

There are tens of thousands of adults all over the world who went to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford etc. that then went on to live completely mediocre middle class lives.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that but my point is that how you do on a test at 16-17 years old does not make you a "genius", nor does scoring in the 99.999% ensure that a person will achieve academic or career outcomes superior than the person who scored 99.9%

Elite schools don't use them at least partially so they can take the same tests as every other school.

> There exist tests that can distinguish between the merely very good and the outstanding.

What tests are these?

Yes does outstanding mean a high depth of knowledge in one area, does it mean a high breadth of knowledge in many different areas? Does it mean a high potential to learn (memory/metacognition skills)? Does it mean comfort with high levels of abstraction? All of these would require different tests.

Or what even is "success?" Isn't that what garners prestige for the school? Do these tests determine your soft skills? Your ability to network? Handle different stressed environments? How you can manage people?

There are certainly some rich slacker/less talented people at prestigious schools, though I agree with the main thrust of your argument.

That is an absolutely wonderful use of the word cache.

You're looking for cachet ("the state of being respected or admired; prestige") not cache ("hidden away for future use").

Also not to be confused with Caché (apparently pronounced like cachet):


I will be the picky one: Caché, cache, cachette and cachet have a different pronunciation.

Cachet and cachait do have the same though. Same for caché and cacher.

> Caché, cachet

I'll be honest I have no idea what the difference is between these two.

Ones French, and is the past tense of the verb cacher, “to hide”

No, I meant the pronunciation!

Haha it’s should be the same - but maybe that’s because I learned French in Canada.

It's different, though maybe native English speakers will struggle because there is no equivalent of "é".

"et", "è", "ai" are all pronounced the same. Similar to the "e" in "best".

For "é" and "er" I struggle to find a definite English equivalent sound. Sometimes "a" is close, but it depends on the accent of the speaker. Maybe the best example is just the last "é" when pronouncing "Beyoncé" or "fiancée"

> "e" in "best".

But I pronounce chachet nothing like the e in best. It seems much more similar to a french "é"

This is how I pronounce it:


Then you don't pronounce it well :D The link you gave me looks like someone with a strong English accent trying to pronounce French (which make sense for an AI)

No, it's someone speaking the anglicised pronunciation which is correct in English just like for the other 1000s of borrowed French words in English.

Though you'll be happy to know that where I grew up in Texas, everyone tried to pronounce "croissant" the French way when (and only when) ordering one at a deli counter. But we weren't far from Paris, Texas.

I did not say the audio clip pronunciation is wrong. I said it was pronounced with an English accent, which bounces a bit the vowels, though the sound of "è" is correct.

What I said is incorrect, is the parent poster saying it sounds closer to "é" than the sound of "best".

If you can't tell the difference, too bad for you, but that doesn't make you right.

"è" (or "et" in French) is pronounced /ɛ/. Wikipedia will confirm that this is indeed the same sound as in "best" (/ˈbɛst/). https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/best

"é" is not the same sound. It's pronounced /e/ like in "fiancée" (/fiˈɑnseɪ/) https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/fianc%C3%A9e

> anglicised pronunciation which is correct in English

All the links I have posted are for the anglicised version of the French words.

> I said it was pronounced with an English accent,

Cachet is an english word in this context, so how could the English pronunciation be incorrect?

> "è" (or "et" in French) is pronounced /ɛ/. Wikipedia will confirm that this is indeed the same sound as in "best"


> "é" is not the same sound. It's pronounced /e/ like in "fiancée"

Also yep. Nobody is disputing you on those.

The problem is when you're saying that the english pronunciation for an english word is incorrect." It can't be. Cachet, in this context, is an english word and this is the english pronunciation.

The link is right, it's pronounced "cash, eh?". Which is basically the same way you'd pronounced "caché" in French.

> Which is basically the same way you'd pronounced "caché" in French

Just... No.

I don't get it, what is wrong with you people for trying to teach a French how a French word is pronounced?!

"é" is pronounced /e/ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close-mid_front_unrounded_vo...

"è" is pronounced /ɛ/ https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-mid_front_unrounded_vow...

The Wikipedia page contains audio samples which are accurate.

"cachet" (phonetically "cachè") is definitely pronounced differently than "caché".

The difference may seem subtle and inexistant for English speakers, but for native French speakers it's definitely different sounds...

I don't understand what is the point of arguing when a native speaker + Wikipedia tell you that you're wrong.

> "cachet" (phonetically "cachè")

Do you understand? This is the statement that we're saying is incorrect. The english word cachet is not pronounced phonetically "cachè" in english. There is another word, cachet, in french. It is not the same word. It does not mean the same thing. It has a common etymology, but that doesn't make you the authority on its pronunciation.

You are trying to argue with an American how an English word since the 1600s is pronounced!

Alright, I concede.

I was looking at the English wiktionnary but in the French section of the word which mentions /ka.ʃɛ/. The English section indeed uses /ˈkæʃ.eɪ/.

My apologies, you were right.

lol, I speak French. Québecois French, but still.

I'm not telling you how it's pronounced in French, I'm suggesting how I pronounce it in English using French as a reference. I don't really think an accent aigu sounds anything like an accent grave.

I don't pronounce "cachet" as "cachè" but rather "caché".

Indeed, I got confused reading the English pronunciation on wiktionnary.

You are right it's pronounced like "caché" in English. My apologies.

Nothing to apologize for! That's what I love about HN, we're all here to learn. Leave the apologizing to us Canadians ;)

This is "the right mix".

It’s like all the silly mobile games, you need a pool of cheap players so the rich people can feel accomplished when they spend money.

This is similar, there needs to be enough for people being accepted to and graduating from a university so when the rich kids also does it people think that he is smart and accomplished.

The last thing you want is rich mediocre kids believing they're smart and accomplished when they aren't.

Some of them will go into politics and business, and their entitlement and delusionally rosy view of their talents will make them a national liability.

You really want to steer rich slackers towards wasting their lives with dumb hedonism, keeping them as far away as possible from any activity with strategic influence.

Just because you know the relative size of each cohort doesn't mean you know if a specific person was in one or the other. There's always the possibility that someone admitted for money actually ends up excelling. I know quite a few people that got far more serious in college and ended up doing quite well even through in high school they were far from good students.

That's before even considering that some small amount of what graduating from one of these schools conveys is a high likelihood of having networked with other people that will be well placed later. My naive expectation is that someone graduating with a science major from MIT might have had a harder curriculum than someone graduating from that same major from Harvard, but I also (again, naively) expect that the person from Harvard may have made contacts with people that will be more diversely placed and in more powerful positions later.

not really. If the auction monetary results were somehow leaked (or hell even if they were published) it's a very strong indicator of what people are willing to pay to be around kids who have brains. You're only in a bind if you're rich AND your kid is smart, because everyone will be suspicious that your kid only got in because of $$. And then, if I were rich I'd probably want my kid to have to struggle a bit to see what it's like for a change. I'm sure there are plenty of actually rich people who think like me.

Not necessarily. Fancy high-end watch bands like Rolex and Omega are not fundamentally better at telling the time than a Casio F-91W. The difference is pure prestige.


I'm generally opposed to this kind of acceptance-of-bad-things but in this case I kinda agree. If people are willing to pay millions to go to college, that's potentially a great advantage to students who otherwise have trouble affording it -- let the rich kids subsidize it for everyone else. By not funneling the donations through weird under-the-table transactions it can be more directly used for a net good for the student body.

It is tricky to maintain the 'prestige' associated with an institution doing this, so I don't really agree with making it too public. But, after all, it was kinda an open secret that this happens and the prestige was maintained away, so if it kept happening with a bit more legitimacy it probably wouldn't change much. Prestige doesn't just mean academic credentials: for some people, if they see Berkeley on a resumé they probably want it to be because that applicant is super-rich and well-connected!

My ideal reform would be a simultaneous enactment of several things:

* allow people to pay millions to go to college; allow this to fund student aid for other students. Explicitly stop using it to build buildings

* stop having all of these overfunded and weirdly inappropriate sports institutions as a core part of academia.

* stop with massively-inflated grades that allow the rich-but-undercapable kids to graduate with the appearance of successful academics. They can buy their way in but they have to do as well as everybody else after that.

* ensure that the influx of money from rich kids' applications doesn't go to administrators in any way, as that would incentivize them to over-prioritize these people.

This reframes things so that the point of strong applications isn't to _get in_, it's to get the scholarships required to get in for free instead of paying the absurd tuition. Meanwhile the school has to keep admitting remarkable kids in order to maintain its brand as prestigious. All of this is already how it works, but making it explicit ought to align incentivizes in a way that makes the whole thing less disturbingly bizarre.

> let the rich kids subsidize it for everyone else

The state schools already do this. It's called "out of state tuition". For example, UC Berkeley charges California residents $14k/yr tuition while everyone else pays $44k/yr. Not surprisingly, the number of out of state students admitted to the UC system is increasing every year. [0]


I am picturing the same thing but 14k vs, say, 500k.

The problem is at some point in the future the university only accepts the actually paying kind of students. This is already an issue for the UC system.

Is grade inflation for rich students really an issue at many colleges? Most majors at most colleges are honestly not that hard. Anyone who shows up and does a modicum of work can skate by with a gentleman's C.

At D1 schools the football and basketball programs generate huge revenue, which is used to subsidize less popular sports (particularly women's teams under Title IX). For better or worse a lot of prospective students care about sports and it's a factor in making colleges more attractive.

Grade inflation for everyone is an issue at most colleges. Grades should reflect your credibility in a subject, and should be roughly normalized across subjects. But because they are so important for the rest of one's career, they end up being heavily pressured towards A's -- which results in careers not paying as much attention to them because they're widely understood to be not meaningful. A better world would see the degree itself as marking credibility in the subject, and grades + GPAs not mattering outside of admissions into higher-education or honor programs -- and 'blow-off' degrees removed entirely.

and --

Lots of people care about sports but that's partly cause lots of people in the past cared and baked it into our culture. It's still a perverse misalignment of incentivizes -- education should be about education; university should be about education + social development + various other forms of development. The American university system is largely about sports and partying for lots of people and I hope no one thinks that's healthy. I don't necessarily think the big sports should be cut, but there's no reason in 2020 that a university should regularly have people who are there on, like, golf scholarships. Universities should certainly take remarkable people of all walks of life -- but the emphasis on sports is insanely beyond what is appropriate.

>But because they are so important for the rest of one's career


I'd never even thought about mentioning college grades _in my country_ and if somebody e.g during interview tried to use tham as strong argument then I'd consider it as a red flag

why anybody competent would need to brag about something unreliable as grades?

I wasn't saying that the grades themselves are important for the rest of anyone's career. They're important for determining what happens to you right after school -- how good of a grad school or job you get -- which has exponential returns for the rest of your life.

For people getting their first job it's the difference between getting an interview or not.

> [grades] are so important for the rest of one's career

This isn't really true beyond specific gates (college admission, grad school administration) and for a couple of years after you graduate. 5 years after graduation no one looks at someone's college grades.

> Lots of people care about sports but that's partly cause lots of people in the past cared and baked it into our culture.

What does this mean? Sport is baked into culture but that's because people still like it. And the changing popularity of different sports (eg MMA 25 years ago vs today) shows that this isn't some forced behavior - people like watching and participating.

> What does this mean?

I meant, the reason college sports are such a big deal in America is that they've been growing for decades with the support of tuition, donations, etc -- which is due to the perverse state of American university system. It didn't necessarily have to end up like this, but it would be hard to undo it now because it has become so important to so many people.

* allow people to pay millions to go to college; allow this to fund student aid for other students. Explicitly stop using it to build buildings

Most elite colleges (not the UCs though) offer 100% need-based aid to accepted students and are need blind in the admissions process. This comes directly from the endownment or the rich alumni and donors already.

* stop having all of these overfunded and weirdly inappropriate sports institutions as a core part of academia.

I completely agree.

* stop with massively-inflated grades that allow the rich-but-undercapable kids to graduate with the appearance of successful academics. They can buy their way in but they have to do as well as everybody else after that.

They do have to do as well as everyone else. Grade inflation is a school-wide phenomenon, but GPA in general is a poor indicator of academic performance: all of the prospective med school students at my school are being advised to apply to colleges which practice grade inflation. The grading system at colleges is taken into account by graduate and preprofessional programs.

* ensure that the influx of money from rich kids' applications doesn't go to administrators in any way, as that would incentivize them to over-prioritize these people.

The admissions office is somewhat decoupled from the rest of the institution, and receive fixed salaries -- this problem does not exist.

> 100% need-based aid to accepted students

With the little weird caveat that poor students at top institutions have to work doing things like cleaning the bathrooms of the richer kids as part of their "term-time work expectation" for receiving financial aid.

I have never seen or heard of that happening. My brother goes to an Ivy on a fully need based scholarship

At Harvard at least, there is a "dorm crew", comprised mostly of poorer students meeting their term-time work requirements that come with finaid, that is responsible for cleaning the in-suite bathrooms.

I think I recall recently reading that some schools might have finally eliminated the requirement (maybe, Yale?) but I'm not sure. It was definitely the case at Harvard as of ~March 2020. (but probably not for this year for obvious reasons!)

Yale has a `student income contribution`, where students on finanical aid are expected to work in some term-time jobs. However these jobs are virtually all administrative (doing paperwork, making calls, etc.), research or teaching assistant-ships. I have not heard of poorer students doing any cleaning.

> The admissions office is somewhat decoupled from the rest of the institution, and receive fixed salaries -- this problem does not exist.

It's not the admissions office that that was targeted at. The donations today go to programs, buildings, etc -- things that involve lots of administrative staff and leaders who are payed executive-level salaries. This should all be going to support students and educators.

> I'm generally opposed to this kind of acceptance-of-bad-things but in this case I kinda agree. If people are willing to pay millions to go to college, that's potentially a great advantage to students who otherwise have trouble affording it.

That's true until the University is so rich that it no longer has any need to acquire any more money. Harvard has a $40 billion investment fund. No amount of rich kids are going meaningful move the needle there. At that point, why bother selling spots to rich kids at all? If you're worried about bribery, why not just literally ban students whose parents are wealthy?

Wealth is one parameter, another is influence.

Harvard benefits from the prestige of its alum network, and admitting the children of wealthy parents ensures a certain level of influence/access to said parent.

> If people are willing to pay millions to go to college, that's potentially a great advantage to students who otherwise have trouble affording it -- let the rich kids subsidize it for everyone else.

The correct way to do this is via marginal tax rates.

What makes it 'correct'?

Taxes are the fairer way for society’s rich to help the poor.

Letting rich people choose who to subsidize results in them building up their own tribes.

Obviously government has some of the same risks, but theoretically, at least they can be countered with laws requiring transparency and allowing for corrective actions if problems are found.

Elite universities have limited enrollments to maintain their exclusivity.

Admittance is a zero sum game, someone paying to get in doesn't subside another student they take their spot.

"let the rich kids subsidize it for everyone else."

This is also known as a progressive taxation system.

That's not correct. Taxation is one of many ways that some people's money support other people; we're talking about a different one.

I went to a boarding school in the UK that followed this model. Ultimately you lose the prestige. Not necessarily quickly enough for any individual to care. But that's the path.

Lots of boys sitting in their rooms smoking weed and ordering pizza and having to be edged out over 2 or 3 years because their parents paid for a swimming pool...

Probably depends on the portion of donor vs. merit positions though doesn't it? As long as the overwhelming majority is merit-based, the academic reputation of the school should be maintained.

No, lots of things are maintained on a collective illusion. We pretend that you have to be smart to get into Yale but you could donate a building and get in. But if Yale put up a sign saying you can get in for the price of a building, now buying a building makes the admission worthless to you.

It needs plausible deniability to work.

This also completely ignores the effect on the other pupils. It's like any form of corruption, it lowers morale and makes people view their situation in a reductive and transactional manner. Ultimately it fosters an attitude which is characterised by a desire to game, control and exploit as opposed to learn, understand and engage.

I did a bit of research work at the University of Ottawa, which by necessity ends up having a sizeable contingent of diplomats' offsprings.

A guy walked up to me and straight up offered to pay me to do his senior project for him. I reported him to his academic advisor. She told me "Thanks for telling me, but there's not much we can do about it without causing an international accident." So next time we saw each other, I agreed to help him with his senior project if I got to go a few rounds with him. He didn't take me up on it.

I went to a school that had essentially this system in place. There wasn't a reverse auction, but rather, full tuition was a significant chunk of change, and as a result, a significant chunk of the student body was there on various merit-based scholarships.

You could usually tell which group a given individual was from, and saying so was a common insult. Either "Your folks may have money, but you're dumb as a post", or "You might be smart but you're poor". There were a select few students where the circles seemed to overlap...

This seems like a natural solution to me, since it's not all that different from merit-based scholarships. At my school for example, the full tuition price was ~$40k, but a portion of admitted students were offered a $10k merit scholarship.

So we already had two categories of students, with somewhat different prices and somewhat different admission standards. I don't see a problem with adding adding more categories along the same lines, as long as some minimum academic standard is enforced.

If I'm in the middle category, I'm happy with my peers who pay more than me because they subsidize the other categories, and I'm happy with my peers who pay less because they elevate the school's reputation.

A large part of the prestige comes from being associated with the people who got in on merit. A school that did this would implicitly devalue that prestige for anyone from an obviously wealthy background. Instead they pretend this doesn’t happen to keep the prestige of “got into x school” valuable.

A large part of the prestige comes from being associated with the people who got in on merit.

I can see that for UC Berkeley, but would that be true of somewhere like Harvard? I get the feeling it would devalue some of the perks of a Harvard education to accept on merit, when a lot of the students from low income backgrounds find the value in mixing with the legacy students.

Plenty of legacy students would get in anyways because of the incredible access to tutors, impressive sounding enrichment programs, and plain better schools wealth brings in this country, no need to stack the deck even further. "Got into harvard" is supposed to be a mark of a high achieving individual and would be devalued if they were more explicit about pay-to-play.

Imagine seeing that type of perverse qualification for sports teams? Some players that pay for the privilege to play, others through dedication and skill. Is this the type of spectacle you would want to watch? Actually, maybe seeing some spoilt rich brat getting creamed on a football field would be worth admission.

This is how quite a few high school football teams work... It's usually done through booster clubs.

This is pretty much what happens in most of the top private engineering schools in India. About a third of the seats are earmarked for "management quota", meaning you pay the management to get in. The rest qualify via various exams.

Works well, doesn't really devalue the prestige of the uni or the students who get in by paying like some of the sibling comments are speculating.

And the private ones aren't really prestigious like the public funded IITs.

> Works well, doesn't really devalue the prestige of the uni or the students who get in by paying like some of the sibling comments are speculating.

Not sure which part of India you lived in but private engineering schools like Manipal, SRM, Vellore aren't considered prestigious. BITS is the only private one which has good clout but they don't have any management quotas.

That would probably be illegal for a public university. Elite private universities frequently defend themselves against the criticism that they reinforce social hierarchy and class privilege. They would incur significant reputational damage if they had official policies that did just that.

What do you mean? We just had a huge lawsuit where Harvard produced detailed evidence that they have exactly those policies, and it was never a secret before then.


Other private schools are no different.

The University of California is a public university. It's also huge and doesn't really suffer from the artificial scarcity of something like 'an undergrad spot at Harvard'. There are lots of ways to get in. What you're describing sounds at once cynical and naive to me and that's a questionable starting place for thinking about public policy in a country-sized state.

> This system isn't "fair", but the outcome is effectively the same as our current setup. With the most notable difference being that, at least this system is transparent and acknowledges that X% of incoming students paid for their post.

With the current setup, there are consequences to trying to pay your way in if you're caught. What's the point of removing those consequences?

Those consequences, in practice, simply act as an additional filter: you have to be savvy enough, and well-connected enough, to make a large alumni donation, and butter up the admissions committee.

This would replace that with cash on the barrel, which is simpler and more honest.

I'm not convinced it's better, but that would be the point of so doing.

> I think these universities should accept that they are providing an education, but they are selling prestige

But this has how it has always been. Everyone knew it was always like this, had a feeling it was like this while they were considering or going through higher education, and now a couple articles and investigations come out.

Is anyone surprised here?

The only thing that has occurred is that people covet these institutions and also think they have a chance of accessing them, thanks to illusions of meritocracy that become real enough to be meaningful avenues for a wider population than before.

In the past it was very clear who didn't have a chance and who did.

Look at the example applicants in the article! A babysitter who knew reality and took a chance they got - babysit with this connected family and ask for the favor. DUH! Ka-CHING! Even dropping out of that kind of university looks good. Life upgraded. What game are the rest of you all even playing?

That is how ancient universities used to operate, there were several types of student who paid different amounts for their tuition, some background here [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commoner_(academia)

This is fairly common in India in private institutions, especially professional schools such as for Engineering, Medicine, Dentistry and Business Administration.

A certain percentage of places are designated 'Management Quota', i.e., the management is free to do with them as it wishes. They are used in many ways. For example, if a certain religious community/sect/order runs the place, it may set aside a large chunk of the management quota to admit students from its community/sect/order; if a (non-sectarian) charitable trust runs the place, as is very common, it may set aside some percentage of the management quota for indigent students who would otherwise not had the chance to attend the institution. Additionally, almost invariably, some part of the management quota is sold to the highest bidder in a pure cash transaction. In this way, rich students end up subsidizing a reasonable number of otherwise deserving students.

There is a significant number of (relatively much less deserving) candidates that all institutions (private or public) are required to admit, such as those coming from the so-called "Scheduled Castes", "Scheduled Tribes", "Other Backward Classes" (from communities that have been lagging in privilege and access to economic opportunities because of their caste/religion), and candidates that have done most of their prior schooling in (massively underserved) rural areas (IOTW, "Reservation" aka Affirmative Action candidates). In fact, the chunk of places allotted (by Government Order) to Affirmative Action candidates is much larger than Management Quota, and even 'Merit Quota' (i.e., candidates who sit competitive examinations in order to gain admission).

As far as subsequent success is concerned, though, it's sink-or-swim for all the candidates who are admitted: they are not given any preference in tests, exams, etc. In some specific cases, for a small initial period, affirmative action candidates may be allowed to advance with lower scores, but that is very much a small exception, not the norm.

I'm curious - here in England, calling a person or a group of people "backward" would be rude/demeaning. Is that different in India, or is it a case or mixed wires in translating terms to English? Or do the people being called that find it demeaning but it's still socially acceptable among other people?

"Backward" has negative connotations here, in the west. But generally, the abbreviation "OBC" (Other Backward Castes) is used. From my personal observation, SC/ST/OBC folks are as caste-conscious as anyone else, but have successfully translated their caste identity into political power in India. In fact, it is fair to say that people from these categories (who comprise a numerically significant portion of the population) have a pretty good grip on power at every level of government, down from your local municipality ward up to the offices of the Prime Minister/President (do you know that the current Prime Minister of India is from a OBC)?

Generally, in polite conversation, no one ever talks about the other person's caste. A lot of the time, this is unnecessary, though. There are tons of caste signifiers, such as your last name, your skin tone, your language (both speakers can use the same language but the set of words used and usage/abusage can tell you a lot about the person's background. Like how you could tell a cockney from an upper-crust West Londoner.) Don't even get me started on food. If you are a "pure vegetarian", then it's a very good chance you are high-caste. With the professions also, things are changing a bit more quickly, but age-old divisions remain. You would be hard-pressed to find a Brahmin working a construction site (there's a good chance a Brahmin would be in an air-conditioned office drawing up the plans for said site); almost zero chance you'd see an upper-caste person going out fishing to sell the catch and make a living, and so on.

If you participate in a conversation with a group of Indians who have just met (at the workplace, say), just observe how they interact: they will put out direct or subtle questions like: "Where are you from originally?", "Where did you attend college?", "What do your parents do?", "Are you vegetarian or non-vegetarian?"... It just goes on and on. You can tell a lot about a person within 15 minutes of meeting him, if you have been raised in India.

EDIT: BTW, the terms "Scheduled Caste", "Scheduled Tribe" (perhaps even "Other Backward Classes") were introduced by the British! The British bureaucrats who ruled the country had an obsession with making tidy lists to categorise people (hence the "Schedule" in "Scheduled"!) and came up with the (original) lists of these castes and tribes!

This would completely erode any public perception of prestige of any University that implements it.

That's probably true if done the way suggested, where the auctioned slots are open to anyone who pays enough money.

Suppose that instead the auction was only open to people who got put on the wait list after the regular admissions process?

Top schools get a lot more qualified applicants than they have openings for, and a lot of people end up on the wait list who are just as qualified as people who were admitted.

We just had a huge lawsuit where Harvard produced detailed evidence that they have exactly those policies, and it was never a secret before then.


Other private schools are no different.

Another way, which would solve other problems as well, would simply be to uncouple credentials and education, and require any institution that receives federal funding to open the credentialing to everyone. Just as anyone who meets the requirements is eligible to take the exam for the CFA or CPA, anyone who meets the requirements should be eligible to take whatever exams or projects a college uses for it's credentials to obtain a degree (colleges could opt in to using a nationwide credentialing system instead of creating their own if they prefer). Open internships and the like to everyone as well.

This would theoretically lead to college degrees representing what they claim to represent (skill of an individual at graduation, not at their junior year of High School), would solve most of the cost issue (self studying and taking the exam would be a viable option that wouldn't be penalized), and admittance would be much less important (since it'd be disconnected from credentials). Of course it would also defang the leverage universities currently hold over society, so I imagine they'd fight tooth and nail against it.

Private schools can decide what they sell, but the UCs should “sell” a great education to as many people as possible at the lowest cost. In that view, pricing schemes that buy only a few scholarships for the low income is an insane priority.

So if it happens, why hide it?

Nobody is complaining about fairness or that it happens, let it happen but be open and honest about these transactions so other market participants can behave accordingly.

I think this is largely how it works, but it's not explicitly separated into two pots. Rather, things like legacy status and family donors are factors in a multifaceted admissions process. Someone who donated twice as much might not have their kid get admitted if academics and test scores are bad, whereas someone who didn't donate as much might get in with good grades and test scores.

>I think these universities should accept that they are providing an education, but they are selling prestige, and split their admissions into two pots

These universities also provide valuable networking opportunities. Would it be appropriate to completely segregate the pots so that they couldn't network?

That's where the value comes in, right? Bright people meet people with capital and valuable social networks and vice versa.

There are three systems. People who pay their way in, people who has the highest grades, and people who get in through diversity quota. Transparency in all three would cause a major waves into the public perspective of admission practices.

There's not just three ways. There is alumni. There is celebrity admits. There are special achievement admits. Athletic admits. Etc...

And it probably differs from school to school -- depending on what the goal of the school is.

Cal doesn't have a "diversity quota."

Every competitive school has a diversity goal (though perhaps not outright quota) at some level for many dimensions of diversity. Many/most schools have academic floors but are then looking to blend in other factors other than pure academic achievement.

The UC chancellors would certainly like to blend diversity goals into their admissions process, but they're prohibited from doing so by state law, and most commentators I've seen believe the prohibition is reasonably effective.

The UCs are prohibited from doing this by Prop 209. Prop 16 this year is an attempt to undo that https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_16,_Repeal_Pr...

And yet, they still try to introduce racial diversity by using policies in disguise.

The entire sub-part of UC admissions having to do with top 9% of students (by school) being guaranteed admission is an effort to achieve racial diversity without calling it that and violating the law.

See page 9 and 21 of the UC's admissions materials. https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/file...

It's funny you mention that policy, because note it can only have a substantial effect on admissions by race if a lot of high schools are racially segregated, as is the case.

See any of a number of sources, such as this one which a quick search turned up: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/02/learning/lesson-plans/sti...

> diversity goal

Well, if Cal has one - it's not one that it can target through changing admission practices.

If you don't think UC has a diversity quota, you are deceiving yourself.

The entire sub-part of UC admissions having to do with top 9% of students (by school) being guaranteed admission is an effort to achieve racial diversity without calling it that and violating the law.

See page 9 and 21 of the UC's admissions materials. https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/file...

It's racism against white people to automatically admit everyone to UC (not Cal) who is in the top 9% of their class?

No, it's racism against everyone who is displaced from otherwise being admitted, so that the UC can under-the-table enact a policy designed to increase the number of black and Hispanic admits without saying it's affirmative action.

Well and classism against more affluent students displaced when some poor kid of any color at some rural school gets an advantage. Or favoring kids that are first to attend college is displacing kids with better-educated families.

I don't have a moral problem with this. It's not a good strategy in life to voluntary switch to a poorer performing school to give yourself a leg up in UC admissions while taking the cost of having less academically competitive high school classmates. It is a reasonable metric to view students through the lens of "how much have they accomplished given the opportunities afforded to them" -- the issue with something like Prop 16 is that it engages in statistical racial discrimination (mostly against racial minorities for that matter) to make that consideration.

you neglected to mention athletes, the “acceptable” non-academic path in. In this case, they used that opening to get big donors in.

I think that is the route among many schools to get donors in.

"Providing an education" and "selling prestige" are going to decouple more and more as remote education gets better, which it will since right now there's no choice but to invest in it.

Then they could just run a dutch auction for the spots!

In this case there will possibly be a new market for paying to be admitted through the merit path.

Once you choose to sell off your prestige you’ve no longer got it to sell

I'd agree with this if the diploma had an indication which bucket the degree came from. When I need a brain surgeon, I'd like to know if he/she got the degree on merit or connections.

Is the implication here that the college doesn’t not actually test knowledge? If so, I’m not sure I’d want a doctor from there whether or not he/she happened to be smart as a 17 year old.

Why not just let students sell their slots? Sell at any time, but any earned credits are forfeited and they can't be re-accepted to the institution for some number of years.

Why wouldn’t you just sell your slot for a gap year?

In this day and age, with all the fierce competition, it's a real problem that elite universities are admitting rich kids on such unfair and uneven grounds.

Going to the "correct" school can transform the life of some people, essentially pulling them up from the lower working classes, and opening up the doors to middle, or even upper-middle classes.

And what's even worse, a lot of these rich kids could go pretty much anywhere, without it affecting their future finances or lifestyle - if anything, it almost seems like a vanity project from their parents side, where they get the bragging rights that their kids are studying at HYPS or whatever.

And it's not that the kids of richer parents are necessarily worse, academically speaking - many of them get private tutors, go to private / prep schools, etc. from young age, but still the parents are so risk averse, that they feel the need to pour even more money, just to eliminate the stress of uncertainty. Even if it's illegal.

I know these cases encompass a broad range of controversy (for example that top-tier Asian-American students can't get into certain schools, because of some nonsensical "personality" assessments) - but in the end, it's just plain old classism. Doesn't mater what skin color you have, where you come from; As long as you have the cash, the odds are increasing in your favor.

Then you have rich folks like David E. Shaw. The guy spent literally tens of millions in donations, to all the top schools, just to increase the chance of his kids getting accepted (or rather - minimize the chances of their kids getting rejected)

And just in case anyone thinks the idea that an elite school won't help a rich kid, there have been studies indicating that is the case.

The one that comes to mind was the study that compared long term outcomes of students who were accepted to Harvard and attended to those who were accepted but did not attend.

Average future incomes were not statistically different.

But the study did note that the starkest improvents in future incomes were found in poor and minority students.

I'm not going to shit on a study I haven't read, but it seems likely that if you come from a "rich" family capable of buying you into a college via back channels, you've probably already got a pretty solid leg up in the game. I can't imagine correcting for all of those variables in a manner which isn't going to leave at least a few questions.

Either way, I'm sure having a diploma from Harvard would open some doors for pretty much anyone, and I'm not naïve enough to pretend otherwise, but I have serious doubts that a diploma from Harvard can truly tell you anything other than that person has the ability to make it through Harvards' admission filter, and do mindless homework for X number of years, like every other college.

That's exactly what the study implies. (It doesn't try to correct for those variables; it doesn't have to.)

> compared long term outcomes of students who were accepted to Harvard and attended to those who were accepted but did not attend.

I don’t know if this comparison controls for the confounders. Alice and Bob are both accepted to Harvard, and Alice decides to attend and Bob decides to chill out at the University of Maui for four years. That’s pretty indicative of Alice being more ambitious and achievement-oriented.

Do you have a cite for this? Not saying you're wrong as it's my prior that selection bias is the most important factor in any difference in educational outcomes. But I'd love to have something solid to point to.

I will say I don't totally understand how future income differences can be not statistically significant and also be "stark" between lower income students at the same time.

This article appears to reference both the original study and a more recent update to the study.


The no-difference in financial outcomes was based on comparing the average incomes of the two groups. So naturally, you will have outliers on both sides. They found that minority students tended to be the outliers.

Part of that probably has to do with the more prestigious school getting them a job they wouldn't have had. But also probably has to do with minority students getting access to the rich, well connected network that they wouldn't have had access to otherwise.

Environment and options, too. The Finance Path, Consulting Path, Tech Path, Startup Path - the implicit assumptions of school A to Company B to Grad School C to Company D is objectively super weird (why is I-Banking > MBA > Consulting so standard a path?), but often critical to making a certain salary.

I’ve previously read this study (and at least one follow on study) and what they said jibes with my recollection. I’ll see if I can find the exact citation

Edit: I believe this is it: https://www.nber.org/papers/w7322

Seems like a worthless study without understanding what they did instead. For example, what if they went to Yale or Cambridge?

Garbage in, garbage out. If you admit dummies, they are not going to become a genius. The bigger issue for all of us is, now we are not supporting the students who could really move the needle. So the needle doesn't move.

It's probably true that generally rich kids could go to school pretty much anywhere and be okay, and that non-rich kids can have their lives transformed for the better by going to a reputable school. But isn't the latter due to the fact that people with power associate reputable schools with elite social status? Presumably if rich kids stopped going to a reputable school, it wouldn't take long for that school's reputation to diminish, even if the actual merit's of the education provided by the school didn't change.

Private schools can be and are as unfair as they want, only it's upsetting when they still maintain pretenses suggesting they are not.

It's nice that this sort of due diligence and review is even possible with public institutions.

It's time to end that stupid competition, and have UCs admit 10x as many students.

I looked at DE Shaw's "philanthropy", the dude just gave top colleges a million dollars a year for like 5-6 years, which according to Wikipedia represented "60% of the Fund's philanthropy"

seeing this as an international student from a developing country, this is simply disheartening. It’s coming to the point where I’m starting to think hard about if it’s really worth applying to a US university at this point.

If you had asked me yesterday what percent of students I thought got into UC schools due to personal connection or wealth, I would have estimated between 10-20%. But this report seems to suggest otherwise:

> In Violation of University Policy, the Campuses We Reviewed Admitted 64 Applicants Because of Their Families’ Donations and Connections

> UC Berkeley inappropriately admitted 42 other applicants

the UC schools as a whole have ~226K students, and at Berkeley, it's ~17,000. I'm very surprised that the corresponding fractions are so small.

Then again, if you get recruited to play a sport that is all-but-exclusively a rich person's leisure activity -- Water Polo, Crew, Golf, Volleyball, and Beach volleyball are all played at Berkeley -- and recruiting gave you an edge in admissions, does that count as "inappropriate?" I would say so, but I doubt this report would. The line between corruption and "that's just how we do things around here" is not self-evident to me here.

> if you get recruited to play Water Polo, Crew, Golf, Volleyball, or Beach volleyball at UC Berkeley, and ~95% of kids who play those sports come from wealthy families, and recruiting gave them an edge in admissions, does that count as "inappropriate?" I would say so, but I doubt this report would.

The report comes close: "the average grade point average for the bottom quartile of applicants whom UCLA admitted for academic year 2019–20 was 4.15, but the average grade point average for its admitted student athletes was 3.74. Similarly, two‑thirds of the admitted student athletes whom UC Berkeley evaluated through its holistic review process for academic years 2017–18 through 2019–20 received the lowest possible rating from its application readers—which is equivalent to a recommendation that the applicant be denied admission."

> the average grade point average for the bottom quartile of applicants whom UCLA admitted for academic year 2019–20 was 4.15, but the average grade point average for its admitted student athletes was 3.74

So the student athletes averaged halfway between an A and an A-? So did I in HS, 15 years ago, and I was a pretty good student! GPAs are really hard to make sense of with all the AP bonuses and whatnot. Standardized test scores strike me as providing a more apples-to-apples comparison. Of course that’s increasingly difficult to do in a test-optional world. (My recollection from an article about ‘The Chosen’ in 2005 is that recruited athletes tend to score 100-200 points lower on the SAT, on average, at Ivy League schools. I would double-check had I not exceeded my monthly free New Yorker quota: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/10/10/getting-in/amp)

The way I've seen it calculated is this:

For regular classes, A: 4.0, B: 3.0, C: 2.0, D: 1.0 (with some variance depending on + or - grades offered). For Honors/AP classes, every grade is essentially bumped up 1.0 point.

So yes, a 3.74 is around an A- average, but that's an A- average in less rigorous classes, without competition from top students. That's more of a B-/C+ average in AP/Honors classes (obviously the calculation is far from perfect, though, because every school has it's quirks- at mine, you couldn't get above a ~4.5 overall). For reference, I graduated high school with a 3.6 with multiple Cs and hardly any As, simply by virtue of taking the maximum number of AP/Honors classes. The point being, a 3.74 is not a terrible GPA, but good students are generally over a 4.0 these days.

Most schools do that, but not all. My school (a private school in the US) didn't bump up anything.

Colleges recalculate GPA's by high school to compare apples to apples. So even if your school doesn't, many colleges will use this weighting system.

I thought it was widely regarded as acceptable that athletes had lower academic requirements. You can meet the admissions criteria via academics or via athletics. This doesn't mean any sort of inappropriate behavior.

The article describes something actually inappropriate: falsely saying students are good athletes in exchange for money.

This only includes those admitted from large donors. The number of students admitted for being friends/family of staff/administration/faculty is probably the highest percentage.

When I worked for Stanford in admissions, it ended up making up about 10-15% of each incoming class.

People on "the list" could still be denied, but the admissions officer would need to write a letter to the Dean explaining why - and that never happened.

People think donating small amounts to the school or being a legacy student help admissions, but they absolutely do not have an impact. The most impactful variables to admission are grades, race/gender, test scores, and essays - roughly in that order.

Side note, but why are water polo and volleyball considered upper-class sports in the USA? I understand regular polo, rowing, etc, because of the cost of equipment. But at my school (on the other side of the world), volleyball was for the islanders, and water polo was for the misfits who couldn't make it in a more popular sport. What sports in the USA are for the plebs? Baseball?

>Side note, but why are water polo and volleyball considered upper-class sports in the USA?

Beach volleyball is more common in areas close to the beach. Beach and indoor players are also significantly taller than the average person-- in the league that my college was a part of, the shortest woman playing middle blocker was still 185cm. Height and beach access both have correlations to socioeconomic factors.

For various reasons, the US has huge racial disparities when it comes to swimming ability. Most African American and Hispanic children don't know how to swim.

As others have mentioned, football, basketball and to a lesser extent soccer/baseball tend to be the "pleb" sports. But even within a sport, you'll see class and racial distinctions when you compare different positions. When you look at pros and college, the majority of quarterbacks and centers are white. QBs also tend to come from wealthier families. Meanwhile, wide receivers and running backs are mostly black. The defense is mostly black, and I don't think there's a single non-black cornerback in the NFL (unless you miscount Tre'Davious White)

> Most African American and Hispanic children don't know how to swim.

Out of curiosity, how common is it for public elementary, middle and high-schools to include swimming lessons in (mandatory) PE class in general? How often do schools without their own swimming pools take their PE class at a nearby public pool?

A club might go elsewhere for a pool or track, but I don't think it's at all common for a plain old PE class to go off campus except perhaps to use a gym if the school lacks one. And I don't think having your own pool is very common for a high school or below.

Fwiw, I have never heard of this. Swimming wasn’t a part of PE where I grew up.

Water polo requires a pool which is an expense that doesn't make sense for non-rich schools. Volleyball doesn't have a major professional league nor one of the big college sports in the USA, so its not in the interest of poor students to take part in because they probably could also be playing Basketball which has a very high profile league and is a major college sport.

Basketball and football are for the plebs. You can usually detect which sports by taking Census race-income measures then comparing them against the visible racial demographic of participants in the sport.

This works well as a heuristic because visible racial characteristics are visible and the rich don't usually want to play with the poor.

Water polo requires a pool, which is expensive. Baseball requires a large field, also expensive. I believe basketball is so popular in part because of the (relatively) low equipment/space cost.

> If you had asked me yesterday what percent of students I thought got into UC schools due to personal connection or wealth, I would have estimated between 10-20%

I don't think it's in the double digits for any school. You need large amounts of wealth to donate your way in.

> what percent of students I thought got into UC schools due to personal connection or wealth, I would have estimated between 10-20%. But this report seems to suggest otherwise:

It's among the private schools, such as the Ivies, where this really comes into play.

Even (some) test scores like the SAT are getting disfavored by some colleges. Rich kids have more support (private teachers, mentors, test preps), sometimes their parents have more free time.

Nitpick, but undergraduate enrollment is over 31,000 (as of fall '19 [1]).

[1] https://opa.berkeley.edu/campus-data/uc-berkeley-quick-facts

Thanks, I was reading too fast and just took the first number I saw.

Since when were Water Polo, Golf, or Volleyball rich person sports? Costs are pretty cheap at public courses.

Beach Volleyball, I guess, kinda, but sand is pretty cheap even in cold weather climates.

Crew, sure. The 'field' is hard to get things to, typically. Lacrosse, well, maybe 20 years ago, but it's everywhere now.

Now, (horse) Polo and Dressage. Those are rich people sports.

Where on earth do you think inner city kids are playing water polo and golf? Just because golf courses aren't that expensive to play on doesn't mean they're accessible to poor people (plus there's the cost of clubs, obviously).

And water polo... even if there are public pools near you, they probably aren't dedicating space for competitive water polo.

Inner city kids would be considered poor, particularly time-poor (parents/caregivers have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet). There are the rich, the poor and the (majority) middling sort. For the majority, wouldn't water polo be affordable? I don't know about golf, though, but given that most cities have public golf courses, perhaps golf is also in the reach of most folks who want to play.

I played water polo at my public high school and only had to buy a swimsuit?

The vast majority of high schools where I'm from don't have public pools. Pools have also been less available historically to Blacks.

After segregation ended, many jurisdictions defunded public pools rather than fund desegregated pools. Instead, wealthier whites used private ones. For a brief history:


Oh yeah, I don't dispute the history of pools in America in general of having a lot of racist gatekeeping behind them, that's absolutely true. I was just saying that swimming and water polo are super cheap sports to participate in as an athlete.

But to become a competitive student athlete accomplished enough to get into a school like Berkeley, you have to go to a high school with its own pool, coach, and roster of fellow competitive swimmers.

When it comes to who gets these coveted "easy" seats for college admissions, it's not enough to say that the sport is hypothetically inexpensive to participate in. You have to look at all the resources that make it possible to become an elite athlete in that sport. Most public schools--especially poor ones--don't have those resources.

Not always true.

One of the girls at one of the schools near us didn't have any of that (most likely). I think they shared their pool with a few teams though. I know they didn't have their own coach, and I know that she was the stand-out star of the team.


Their demographics are white, but not majority, with ~30% hispanic. I don't know the demo in 2006 though:


Natural talent is still a thing. Though I do agree that more $$$ = better training.

David Epstein's Range talks a lot about training in your younger years. He has a much better argument than me, but the gist is that you have to have a 'trial' period before you commit (depending on sport conditions). In 'unkind' (his term) sports, if you overtrain early, you'll burn out. I'd say Water Polo and Volleyball are those kids of sports. Swimming, on the other hand, is a 'kind' sport where early identification and rigorsous training are beneficial.

It's a really good book: https://davidepstein.com/the-range/

> Not always true.

> One of the girls at one of the schools near us didn't have any of that (most likely). I think they shared their pool with a few teams though. I know they didn't have their own coach, and I know that she was the stand-out star of the team.

Of course it's not always true. However your rebuttal actually proves the point of this discussion. You can name one outlier, who is exactly that, an outlier. The issue isn't "athletic scholarships are 100% inaccessible to people outside of the top 10% wealth bracket", it's more along the lines of "the overwhelming majority of athletic scholarships for sports are provided to people who are already benefitting from systemic privelege, and the remaining slots will be filled by outliers"

Consider two equally skilled waterpolo players, one who has a shared pool and the facilities to go with it, and one who has a private pool, coaching staff, etc. Now consider who is more likely to be in that position in the first place. That's not to say that there are no minorities in the second group, but they are overwhelmingly more likely to not end up in that scenario in the first place.

I'm not so sure, but I'd need to see the actual data on how Pac-12/Olympic/NCAA/whatever break down in terms of economics.

Swimming is cheap only if there is cheap pool available.

Yeah, it's a pretty common HS sport on the west coast and in states that don't freeze. Any school with a pool nearby may have a team. My HS shared the pool with three other HS teams during after-school practice.

But what public high school was it? Public is by no means equivalent to located in a poor area or underfunded.

I think you'd know better than us, honestly. Did you play water polo in high school and only buy a swimsuit?

Your public high school had a swimming pool?

In California (or at least my part of it) it's pretty common.

I'll echo this. Most HSs that I know of in CA have pools. But I can't find any info online about percentages or breakdowns (urban, rural, suburban, etc). I'd say west-coast states and those that don't freeze have an easier time with pool upkeep and year round usage.

Yeah, I don't have hard information on this either, but I get the impression that it's a much different calculation if you're in a climate where the pool has to be indoors.

That is a very strange question

This is bad, but 64 students isn't all that much. It pales in comparison to private colleges. For example, Harvard accepts about 1/3 of its students as "legacy". If you believe the lawsuits about Harvard's anti-Asian discrimination, that also affects hundreds of potential Harvard students every year. Once you consider that UC Berkeley is about five times larger than Harvard, and that there are at least a dozen top-tier private schools with similar policies to Harvard, this seems like a much smaller problem.

Read the article. 64 students (from the tiny audited sample) met the highest bar (direct email evidence of connection to donations etc.), to say nothing of other "strongly suspect" students, and the rest outside of the audited sample.

> It pales in comparison to private colleges.

As it should. One student admitted in this fashion is too many for a public university.

All private universities that do this should not qualify for non-profit status.

Have a rule.

Our republic, and the California state government, is based on rule of law. One group makes the laws, another enforces it, and a third interprets the conflicts. This works. What we have here is a 'no rules' set of actions.

How about rules that say "we will take any student for $200K/year". This is enough money to supply extra supervision and also give a full scholarship to another student.

The idea of privilege first entered the public sphere in the prelude to the French Revolution. "Privilege" in Old French literally means "private law".[1] It was the idea that a different set of rules for each of the Estates (Clergy, Nobles, and Commoners) was both fair and natural.

Are we are starting to see similarly different sets of rules for each class in the United States? Is such privilege in accordance with our ideals of liberty and justice for all?

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/privilege

Corruption never disappears completely, but it's pervasiveness seems to be cyclical. The 4th Turning is a good read on the subject



Social classes and economic classes, while they have a lot of overlap, are fundamentally different.

Can it be? Are the rich starting to follow a different set of rules?

Starting? When has this not been the case?

Before the 18th century most people could not read. Literacy rates began rising dramatically starting in the 17th century with the invention of the printing press and the proliferation of reading materials that it spawned. By the third quarter of the 18th century, an extraordinary milestone was passed in France. For the first time in history more people could read than could not. The commoners of Paris were obsessed with the plays, novels and essays of Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. The satire and wit of these thinkers inspired a new form of popular discourse we now call critical thinking. Commoners from rich merchants to petty artisans started examining and discovering the contradictions and injustices endemic to their lot in life. The idea of privilege came from this tempest of new ideas. While the hierarchy of power and its unequal treatment are as old as time, this newly educated population was for the first time able to see this hierarchy of power for what it is: an inherited system of control based on fraudulent claims to divinity that is inherently unfair and unjust.

It's always been there, it's just that social media is making it extremely easy for everyone to see it now.

1 for 1 isn't worth it, and the UC system already plays that game with international students where one international pays for 3 in-states. Make the buy-in price pay for 10 and I'm in support.

1 for 10 seems reasonable, assuming there is also a strict academic requirement for that privileged student. Even more points if it supports their housing and food plan.

The incentive in that system is to ensure the wealthy student absolutely meets their academic requirements, regardless of ability.

How can you fail out Timmy Upperclass, if 10 students lose their funding next year with him gone?

If you fail out Timmy, he has to pay for tuition again thus paying for even more students. Or just charge the 10x upfront + normal tuition/year after that.

Replace him with Billy Upperclass Transfer student.

Further points if rich kids do household chores, cleaning, cooking etc for less privileged folks. Just strict academic requirement is not sufficient. Rich kids also have to remain in 95 percentile in academics. A further investigation committee need to be setup to investigate every year if rich kids are not using their influence to be among top students in their classes.

You obviously have to balance the legitimate cost against the illegitimate costs people will incur to get kids admitted. I don't know if 3x or 10x is the right value, but it's definitely not "more is better." If you make it cost a billion dollars to legitimately buy your kid into the school, there will still be millionaires utilizing these sorts of bribes.

Maybe they could take like 5-10% of the slots and just auction them off.

This isn't tenable at this price. Double or triple it, and maybe.

The limiting factor for elite universities usually isn't dollars, but the quantity of qualified tenure-track faculty and physical space. Not at the university, but overall. The number of postdocs and graduating PhD students each year with the credentials that Cal wants to accept isn't huge. Similarly, the number of rooms that the university has is limited, and both of those numbers take time to change.

A certain ticket for 4x the price of Harvard is still a really, really good deal for lots of wealthy people.

"This is enough money to supply extra supervision and also give a full scholarship to another student."

Imagine there are 10 students for 5 spots, and there is an objective ranking from most-qualified (#1) to least-qualified (#10).

Now let's assume student #10 can pay that $200k. That funds their spot plus another spot. So instead of admitting:

{1, 2, 3, 4, 5}

You can now admit:

{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10}

Doesn't this seem unfair to candidates #7 to #9, who are more qualified than #10, but will end up with a less valuable credential?

#7 to #9 would never get admitted anyway.

The question you should ask is whether being able to admit #6 is worth it.

If #10 is some trust fund baby who couldn't study himself out of a wet paper bag, then probably not.

But if #10 is merely 'good' it might be worth it to be able to admit just-0.1-GPA-short-of-great #6.

Consider the degree not as education, but as a signalling device.

If you admit #10, then they will beat out #7-#9 in the job market, increasing lifetime earnings at the expense of the others.

If you don't admit #10, then #6-#10 will compete on an equal footing.

The latter may be the outcome you want.

This is already the way education works. You’ve heard of “needs-blind” admissions? Anywhere they don’t say that, it means the ability of students to pay full price is part of the admission process.

Even "need-blind" admission uses proxies for (non-)need, like "legacy" and "celebrity".

Like first class passengers footing a large share of the bill so economy passengers can pay less.

I think that is a misconception.

The economy travellers make it possible to travel first class. First class travel is for the moderately wealthy. The very wealthy have their own transport.

Economist article on decline of 1st class travellers: http://archive.vn/OQPt2 (2019).

Completely agreed.

The idea that we have to "tear it all down" and institute Marxism is backward and self-contradictory.

As you said, we need to identify where and how rule of law is lacking and fix it, making sure that representative government and separation of powers remains intact (or is put in place again).

I know this may be against the guidelines, but does anyone know why the above comment was downvoted?

Do people really favor Marxism, or is something else wrong?

It could be because:

a) It's not uncommon these days for the term "Marxism" to be used as a brush to paint anyone "too left wing" (despite not being close to actual Marxists)

b) "Cultural Marxism" has become an antisemitic term https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Marxism_conspiracy_th...

Plus, yes there are still some people in the world who believe in Marxism, although often just in a broad sense rather than thinking everything about it is right. But I doubt many on HN.

And while complaining about downvoted may be against the rules, personally I think it's completely fine in the context of wanting to understand something like your question, rather than "this shouldn't be downvoted".

Thanks, I appreciate the help.

Do you actually believe that letting people pay for guaranteed enrollment is at all acceptable?

There was a study suggesting the strongest social mobility influence granted by an university education is really just the proximity and opportunity to network with the wealthy on even grounds more than the education itself.

So by having a guaranteed ratio of very wealthy mixed into your student pool, it's hugely beneficial to everyone else. It's practically the reason people chase after prestigious MBA educations.

The practice might be distasteful philosophically, but the results are apparently great.

Not at all!! Not sure where you got that. I think this business of improper admission and bribes violates rule of law terribly.

That's the point -- rule of law means everyone is subject to the same rules, without partiality.

Well no, that's not really what rule of law means. It would be perfectly within the rule of law to allow people to pay for admissions. If this wasn't a public institution, it would be perfectly legal, and I'm not even sure it's illegal here.

Rule of law is not sufficient, power also needs to be distributed correctly for rule of law to lead to good outcomes.

> It would be perfectly within the rule of law to allow people to pay for admissions

Not if a law exists to the contrary. And that was the point I was agreeing with -- the solution should be to write a law if one doesn't already exist; or to enforce it if it does.

> power also needs to be distributed correctly for rule of law to lead to good outcomes

Agreed, though distribution isn't the word I'd use, as it implies the existence of another human authority to determine how it should be distributed (thus granting that person or group of people improper power).

But if the placement of power is determined by duly enacted law, that's acceptable.

I do. It's absurd that _anyone_ with a high school diploma is refused enrollment at a public college.

But the question is also: which college?

It's a fine view that nobody should be denied great education, but if an entire country's annual cohort of high school diploma recipients all applies to the public college considered to be the best one they obviously couldn't all attend that one.

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