Dispatches from District 48
The Varsity Blues admissions scandal along with the lawsuits by Asian Americans against Ivy League schools' admissions processes have brought new scrutiny to private university admissions standards. I was thinking about a small proposal to respond to this scrutiny that particularly falls on legacy, large donor, and athletic admissions. I think this proposal would help restore some trust in the process.
I have a lot of problems with my alma mater Princeton and their admissions, so much so that I have dropped out of the recruiting process after participating in it as an interviewer for 20 years. But one good thing that they and others have done is to apply some of their massive endowment to allowing need-blind admissions, and more recently, to making all financial aid grant-based so that kids can graduate debt-free and do whatever they like with their education, irrespective of how much money it makes.
Here might be a next step: Draw a line in the admission pool designating kids (by grades and test scores) who we might designate as "Ivy-ready." Many of these kids will not get admitted, because there are too many of them. Most won't have the extra-curricular activities or sports or alumni connections or rich donor parents that differentiate the 1450 SAT that got in and the 1450 SAT that did not. In current parlance, all of these resume items are likely markers of privilege (including the extra curricular activities, many of which are driven by knowing parents more than real interest).
Proposal: Save 20% of the spots. After the other 80% are allocated by the traditional means, throw all the other folks who clear the Ivy-Ready line and throw them in a lottery and lottery the final spots.
Of course, these 20% will have to be freed up from current uses. Princeton just had a 20%-ish increase in class size by building more residential college capacity, and I wish they had adopted this approach at the time. I am not sure where it would come from, but my personal starting point would be athletic spots. I think the Ivies spend way too many resources (including most especially valuable admissions slots) trying to be more competitive at college athletics. And I say this despite my son having been a student-athlete at Amherst College. (By the way, tiny Amherst uses so many admissions spots on athletes that pretty much everyone on campus is one. The kids actually have a term "NARP" -- non-athletic regular person -- for the few unicorns not actually on a varsity team.)