Bias in College Admissions Is No Joke

11/22/2017 10:31 am ET

Late night talk shows have had plenty of material to work with over the past year. Our elected officials in Washington provide an almost endless stream of statements and botched press conferences. We may all collectively laugh at the late night spoofs, but the jokes are feeling less humorous and more grim to me now as there is too much reality that doesn’t go away after the laughs die down.

And, then I recently saw this post on McSweeney’s, a humorous piece about college admissions at an elite institution. The claims are so outrageous one can only chuckle at first. But, if you are at all like me, I quickly felt sick to my stomach as the words rang too true to be funny.

As the column so brilliantly mocks, the websites of America’s most respected universities describe their admissions process with buzz words like ‘holistic review,’ ‘well rounded students,’ ‘need-blind admissions,’ and ‘diverse student body.’ Yet, just a light scratch on the surface and it is clear that these institutions are still committed to admitting the privileged elite.

An article published in The Economist earlier this year detailed the “rich-in, rich-out” model in play at many elite U.S. institutions. At one Ivy League university, more than 20% of its student body hail from ultra wealthy families. At another, nearly 30% of a recently admitted class had a relative who also attended the university.

We have to stop holding these institutions in such high regard, and look to the more innovative and principled approaches other colleges are adopting to even the playing field. This isn’t an impossible task; it just takes a willingness to find a better way to evaluate talent to ensure that every student is measured on their qualifications and not their connections or the value of their bank account.

No quotas, no legacies, no favoritism. No bias based on family financial situation. No attention given to standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, as wealthy families can afford the tutors for test taking mastery to inflate scores. No pre-written essay reviewed by the English teachers, the counselors and the helicopter parents (or outsourced entirely to a professional writer). None of these elements should matter in college admissions, as none of these elements measure a student’s readiness to be successful in college and, more importantly, beyond.

Why should you care, even if you don’t have a college bound student this year? You need to care because our universities are training the next generation of leaders. These young people being admitted to colleges today will soon be running global corporations, sitting at the negotiating tables, setting policy and passing laws, and running cultural organizations.

Don't you want colleges — the institutions responsible for preparing them for these positions — to admit the most qualified students, as opposed to those lucky enough to be born into the right families?

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