This was an interesting op-ed in the NY Times last week about the realities of college admissions. The main premise is that the idea in the US that anyone with brains and a willingness to work hard can get into a major college or university is wrong. What's happening:
"Today, the competition to get into these institutions is at an all-time high, and this has led to serious problems across the socioeconomic spectrum -- gnawing and pervasive anxiety among the affluent, underrepresentation among the middle classes and an almost total lack of access among the poor."
A recent study of 146 selective colleges and universities concluded that students in the top quartile of socioeconomics (parental income, education and occupation) are 25 times more likely to attend a top school than students from the bottom quartile. Many of these selective schools have made claims about more outreach, more scholarships and yet the reality is the opposite in terms of results. Yet another study found that at 19 selective schools disadvantaged applicants get "essentially no break in the admissions process."
This becomes a bigger issue as we argue in the courts about affirmative action and the use of race. (The irony is, as the writer, Jerome Karabel, points out is that the selective colleges and universities uniformly use affirmative action for the privileged via preference for children of alumni and big donors. These schools hate to acknowledge this but it's true.)
Relying on SAT scores? "Of all students nationwide who score more than 1300 on the SAT, two-thirds come from the top socioeconomic quartile and just 3 percent from the bottom."
He asks some good questions about how this might change.
"Is resilience in the face of deprivation a form of achievement? Should universities expect - and even demand - higher levels of achievement from applicants who have enjoyed every social and educational advantage?"
He suggests a set-aside seats for a lottery where only admission officers would know who the winners were. No other person, not a professor or employers, would know.