Brief Note on Emory University and Preference Cascades

by Reihan Salam

You may have read that Emory University officials deliberately misreported the SAT and ACT scores of its students, presumably in an effort to improve its relative position in rankings of selective colleges and universities. Having recently read Mismatch, a brilliant new book by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. we’ve discussed in this space, it occurred to me that part of the issue might be the cascade, i.e., while the most prestigious and selective higher education institutions can employ relatively small preferences, because they can draw from underrepresented students at the top of the talent distribution, somewhat less prestigious and selective higher education institutions are forced to employ much larger preferences to meet their goal of rough demographic balance, as there is a relatively steep drop-off in preparedness among students from underrepresented groups (for a host of complex reasons). That is, Emory University officials might have concluded that the SAT and ACT scores of students receiving large preferences created a misleading impression of the relative selectivity of their school for “mainstream” applicants, and so they were justified in misreporting. This is, of course, totally irresponsible and unethical, yet I’d argue that it reflects a larger culture of silence and misdirection around large preferences and their consequences. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.