College Board Introduces ‘Adversity Score’ to Control for Privilege in Admissions

(Photo: Syda Productions/Dreamstime)

The College Board plans to introduce an “adversity score” that will accompany an applicant’s SAT score in order to give college-admissions officers greater insight into how the applicant’s social and economic privilege may have contributed to their academic performance.

The adversity score, which will be made available to colleges but not the students themselves, will reflect 15 different factors including the crime rate and average income level in a student’s neighborhood, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The new metric is currently being used by 50 colleges and will likely expand to 150 schools this fall.

“There are a number of amazing students who may have scored less [on the SAT] but have accomplished more,” said David Coleman, chief executive of the College Board. “We can’t sit on our hands and ignore the disparities of wealth reflected in the SAT.”

The national debate over how to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in college admissions has escalated dramatically in recent years due to a lawsuit brought against Harvard University by a group of Asian applicants who claim they were racially discriminated against in the name of diversity.

The adversity score may serve as an alternative for colleges seeking to ensure greater racial and economic diversity while avoiding the challenges associated with effectively raising admissions standards for one particular over-represented racial group.

“The purpose is to get to race without using race,” Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, told the Journal.

The use of an adversity score did in fact lead to greater racial diversity in the case of Florida State University, which successfully increased its non-white enrollment from 37 percent to 42 percent among its incoming freshman class.

“If I am going to make room for more of the [poor and minority] students we want to admit and I have a finite number of spaces, then someone has to suffer and that will be privileged kids on the bubble,” John Barnhill, assistant vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University, told the Journal.   

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