Arthur C. Brooks in today’s WSJ (no free link):
For the universities who offer it, early admission is an option driven largely by applicant demand. It obviously would not exist if students and their families were not interested in it. To get rid of the program for the reasons typically given by critics — suboptimal personal behaviors and imperfect information about the program — seeks to correct private problems by eliminating consumer choices. This is silly. We don’t ban items because people don’t know about them, nor do we put an end to most goods and services (even truly dangerous ones like guns and booze) simply because some people might fail to use them in beneficial ways. The public interest is best served in a market economy not by eliminating choices, but by increasing the information about products and how to use them properly.
Still, it is true that Harvard’s decision is a welcome one — though not for the reasons cited by critics. Harvard simply does not need early admissions to build a stable, high-quality student body. It could require that kids submit their applications in person with shaved heads, and still it would get a disproportionate share of America’s most talented students. When Harvard abandons early admissions it incurs little cost, but enhances a useful tool for second-tier universities competing for good students — those sufficiently ambitious and on-the-ball to write applications in October.
By aggressively marketing early admissions, schools below the very top ranks can cater to what a lot of students and their families want. If these universities are really worried that early admissions disadvantage people who don’t know about them, the solution is to market them more seriously to these populations — not to eliminate the choice for everybody.