Phi Beta Cons

Another Sort of Admissions Preference

The people who think that they can improve society by rearranging people never stop coming up with reasons we should let them do so. A new study contends that instead of using racial preferences, colleges and universities should use a system based on an “overachievement index.” Students who do better academically than similarly situated students would get extra points and therefore could be admitted to prestige schools which otherwise would not accept them. John Rosenberg has a sharp analysis of this argument on Minding the Campus.

The authors of the article are based on Colorado and hypothesize a student, James, who qualifies as an “overachiever” and is offered admission at the state’s flagship university. They write that “when James enters CU he will be able to draw on life experiences that most of his undergraduate peers will not. Thus, James should bring views and perspectives to the University that would be absent were he refused admission.”

Put aside the assumption here that just because a young person has managed to do reasonably well academically even though his family is regarded as “disadvantaged” he will be able to do well enough at the flagship university to graduate. Maybe so, maybe not. The bigger problem is the assumption that going to the more prestigious school is necessarily better for James. That’s quite doubtful, especially if you’ve read Paying for the Party. What the authors of that book demonstrated is that the environment of a big-time sports, big-party campus is a very bad one for many students, and especially for kids who need to focus on their coursework. (Here is my review of Paying for the Party.)

Keep in mind that admissions preferences merely shuffle around where students go to college based on the idea that the more prestigious the institution, the better it must be for students who get to attend. That notion is flat-out mistaken. Students can be mismatched not only academically, but also with respect to campus environment. James might be better off at a University of Colorado regional campus or starting in a community college. Leading him off to Boulder, Pied-Piper style, might be very bad for him.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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