should harvard randomize admissions?

We recently discussed in detail the podcast “Nice White Parents,” which was about the lack of racial integration in a Brooklyn middle school. Interestingly, one policy reform that emerged in the end was that parents successfully lobbied to end the labyrinthine system of admissions. If you want your kid to go to public middle school in that district, rank your schools, send it in, and then wait for the lottery to be announced.

A question I had at the end was: Why not use lotteries and randomization to hand out public school resources more generally? For example, a huge problem in elite college education is that parents invest a huge amount into making their kids “special” so they can get through ultra competitive admissions processes. Low income families and people of color don’t have the financial or cultural resources to play that game, and frankly, that’s by design in many cases (see Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen, for example).

So instead of tinkering with elite college admissions, why not just bypass them? Just say, “look, students with at least XX% SAT or GPA tend to do well here. If you are above that cut off, you will be entered into an admissions lottery.” Since colleges need private donors and public support, you can reserve some slice of admits for alumni, athletes, children of senators, and so forth.

Bottom line: We can’t prevent wealthy parents from pushing their kids, but we do have some tools for dealing with the problem.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 2, 2020 at 6:41 pm

Posted in uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. At least from a European perspective, the notion that “since colleges need private donors and public support, you can reserve some slice of admits for alumni, athletes, children of senators, and so forth” is far from obvious. Why not just provide colleges with adequate (public) funding in the first place?

    Liked by 1 person


    September 3, 2020 at 12:00 pm

  2. Hi,Rense:

    Two issues:

    – path dependence: on the K-12 level, school funding is based on property tax, not federal appropriation. Tough to reform such a system.

    – many of the colleges I am thinking are private, so public funding is not the relevant issue.



    September 3, 2020 at 2:08 pm

  3. Harvard did a version of this many years ago and showed it still generated a great class. See Robert Klitgarad’s book, Choosing Elites.



    September 7, 2020 at 6:27 am

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