Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rigged college admissions

In an article at San Francisco Chronicle, Shikha Dalmia makes the case that elite universities' increasing promises of aid are meaningless if they keep the number of legacy admissions that they currently have. In another article for Reason, she makes the same case and cites a chancellor at Berkeley as saying that "at one Ivy League school only 40 percent of the seats are open to candidates competing on pure educational merit." This is a problem, she explains, since:

Admissions are a zero-sum game in which students vie for a finite number of seats. So every seat that a less-talented legacy gets is one less spot at Stanford available to a talented poor kid. The crucial determinant of economic diversity on campus is not how much largesse legacies expend on poor kids - but how many seats they take away from them.

It's all fine and good, until she gets to the end, where she says that she doesn't believe that private schools should have to do this, since "Stanford is a private school and should be free to set whatever admission standards it deems fit." But, is this really true? Given the tax breaks given to schools and grants for research and other things and the cross-subsidization by colleges of the different kinds of education, can you really say that "private" schools really retain the distinction as not dependent or beholden to the state? Private universities like the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Caltech, Stanford and MIT have all received over a half billion dollars each in federal contracts in recent years, to say nothing of state and local contracts and grants, tax breaks of all kinds, bond issues, and political clout.

If the public is going to subsidize all of this research, it ought to have the option of mandating that the entities be separate from and not cross-subsidizing rigged undergrad programs.

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