the dim kids of the ivy league
Sepia Mutiny links to a recent Boston Globe article called “At the Elite Colleges – Dim White Kids.” The article reports on the research of Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose of the Educational Testing Service. Using the colleges’ internal data, they examined the academic records of students recently admitted to the 146 top four year colleges (the top 8% of all such colleges). The big finding:
Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America’s highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions’ minimum admissions standards. (emphasis added)
That’s stunning: one of seven students at leading colleges are white students who do not meet the stated minimum standard for the school. The reason? These students are a mix of athletes and folks admitted to make alumni, donors, and political elites happy. Higher education researchers know this, but few probably expected the rate to be so high.
Let’s put that into an even bigger context: at top colleges, the group of white students who got into college through privilige (15%) is about the same size as the population of latino & black students who got in through any means at all (around 12%-15%). If you figure that a significant portion of these latino and black students were admitted under affirmative action – let’s say half – then the privileged white students are about twice as large as the entire population of meritocratically admitted under-represented minority students.
How to respond? One might be Machiavellian and say that admissions is a political and intellectual process. Long as colleges require the generosity of donors and benefit from tax exempt status, they will always admit some students on political grounds, whether it be the Senator’s kid, or a student from a poor high school. If so, college admissions offices represent America’s collective response to status and privilege. In exchange for letting in one kid because he comes from an under represented group, we let in two kids who make the alumni and donors happy. Given that colleges operate in a system where they depend on the kindness of strangers, perhaps this is the best we can expect.