19 March 2012

"Smart kids might choose other schools..."

The Daily | Shikha Dalmia | Race-based admissions aren’t going away – even if the Supreme Court says they should

[...] The best option might be to open up university admissions to public scrutiny through full-disclosure laws. Just as publicly traded companies are required to disclose accurate financial information to investors, public universities should be required to declare what admission standards they use for which groups (including, incidentally, children of alumni and donors, the other big beneficiaries of preferences) along with each group’s graduation rates. This would force the universities to defend any blatant double-standard in public. And smart kids who felt that the university was diluting its standards too much might choose other schools — as might minority students who feel the university is setting them up for failure.
I think relying on "smart kids" (ie consumer choices) is the only stable equilibrium in the long run.

I continue to believe there is a huge opportunity for a school to market itself as the college which takes the best students and doesn't bother with any of the other dimensions which crop up on typical applications.

"Your parents didn't send you on a trip to Mexico to dig latrines so you would have a moving experiences to write about in your admissions essay? We don't care, because you aced multivariate calculus when you were fifteen. We take the best students we can find and forget all the other bullshit. Here, take a look at our admissions files and graduation rates and job placement statistics and alumni salary histories judge for yourself. Come to our school and you will be in classrooms with the smartest other young people we can find. We do not put our thumb on the scale in any way to tip the balance towards or away from any type of person, because we are entirely committed to admitting the most intelligent."

Applicants wouldn't even put their name or addresses on their applications to minimize latent discrimination. Do everything double-blind. Maybe even divide up the application in different sections evaluated under different randomly assigned ID numbers so that inferences made about an applicant's SES based on their extra curricular activities or hints about their legacy status in their essay don't affect the way the rest of their record is judged.

I wouldn't want every school to operate this way, but I think there's a huge niche waiting for a couple of schools that are willing to try it. Especially since current admissions practices are so homogenous. And especially as tuitions increase and people are matriculating whose parents are still paying off college loans. Universities will need to look to market themselves in ways beyond the standard "Look at our gigantic gymnasium and fancy cafeteria with twenty flavors of all-you-can-eat ice cream and two dozen study-abroad programs in sexy Mediterranean cities! Come have an awesome four year vacation college 'experience' at our school!"


  1. It's my understanding that at least one school is adopting something like this in its admissions policy: Cal Tech.

  2. Good to hear! Thanks for the info.

  3. A school which does this is going to have to do something about the Chinese student problem. Chinese students are constantly applying everywhere with ridiculous scores in everything. And then it turns out they got those scores by cheating at every opportunity, and they continue cheating in the university. That's the problem with the approach-- distinguishing between "you aced multivariate calculus at 15" and "you cheated your way to an A in multivariate calculus at 15"