Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Scandal of College Admissions

The media is agog over the college admissions scam. How is it possible that admission to some of America’s greatest institutions of higher learning could be gained by unlawful means? Cheating on college board exams. Pretending to be a star athlete. Bribing coaches. The list goes on.

The perpetrators, some of whom are now facing hard time, were only the Hollywood glitterati. Hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, business executives… they were all in on making every illegal effort to gain entry for their darling children into America’s elite universities.

Heather Mac Donald has offered the best commentary on the subject, so we will use her City Journal essay as our point of entry:

Thirty-three moguls and TV stars allegedly paid admissions fixer William Singer a total of $25 million from 2011 to 2018 to doctor their children’s high school resumes—sending students to private SAT and ACT testing sites through false disability claims, for example, where bought-off proctors would raise the students’ scores. Singer forged athletic records, complete with altered photos showing the student playing sports in which he or she had little experience or competence. Corrupt sports directors would then recommend the student for admission, all the while knowing that they had no intention of playing on the school’s team. 

What is the deeper meaning of it all? Mac Donald explains that the scandal simply reflects the fact that these institutions have become so completely corrupted that, outside of STEM subjects, their mission no longer has anything to do with education:

None of this could have happened if higher education had not itself become a corrupt institution, featuring low classroom demands, no core knowledge acquisition, low grading standards, fashionable (but society-destroying) left-wing activism, luxury-hotel amenities, endless partying, and huge expense. Students often learn virtually nothing during their college years, as University of California, Irvine, education school dean Richard Arum writes in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. They may even lose that pittance of knowledge with which they entered college. Seniors at Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Berkeley scored lower in an undemanding test of American history than they did as freshmen, according to a 2007 study commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. College is only desultorily about knowledge acquisition, at least outside of the STEM fields (and even those fields are under assault from identity politics).  

Today’s great American universities leave you more stupid when you leave than you were when you entered. Witness the witless Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, not only because she is an imbecile, but because young people look up to her.

If the mission is not education, it seems to have devolved into the pursuit of status and prestige. And also, connections:

The stampede to get children into as prestigious a school as possible grows more frenzied by the year, driven by the bragging rights that association with a name-brand university confers on status-hungry parents, who also understand the networking potential of those bright college years. There’s the allegiances of alumni, too, whose donations flow more lavishly when their alma mater’s sports teams are winning. Such tribal sympathies confer unjustified admissions authority on college athletics directors. When the sleazy sports directors in the Singer scheme certified the student applicants as varsity material, their word was apparently final in admissions offices. 

Naturally, the current scandal, what with the promise of jail time for celebrities and tycoons alike, has elicited a flurry of commentary. Much of it has aimed at defending racial preferences and diversity quotas… because rich white people have always had their own system of preferences. These are called legacy admissions. But, is the analogy really germane. Mac Donald is one of the very few who have looked at this specious comparison fairly and objectively:

What the pay-to-play admissions scam does not demonstrate, however, is that “legacy” admissions are somehow more corrupt than race-based affirmative-action admission policies—which seems to be the primary lesson that left-wing commentators and politicians are taking from the scandal—or that meritocracy is a “myth” that has now been debunked. Racial preferences are a far more significant deviation from academic meritocracy than legacy preferences, which are not even implicated in the current scandal. An underreported but salient detail in the Singer scam is that he “falsified students’ ethnicities,” according to the New York Times, because “some families and students perceive their racial backgrounds can hurt or aid their chances of getting in to schools that consider race in their admissions decisions.” This is not a mere perception; it is the truth. 

Is meritocracy really a myth? Not exactly. Mac Donald will note in another text that we could solve the problem by becoming more of a pure meritocracy. That is, by admitting students on the basis of their test scores, as they do in China and as they do in advanced New York City high schools. Yet, if that were the case the schools would quickly become majority Asian. Another instance of the dread white privilege.

In truth, however, legacy admissions tend to be academically qualified. Minority candidates were far less qualified, had far higher admissions rates, and almost certainly had far lower SAT scores:

At Middlebury, the admission rate of legacies in the class of 2006 was 45 percent, compared with 27 percent for the entire class, according to the New York Times. But the 30 legacies admitted were also more academically qualified, with an average SAT score of 1,389, 33 points higher than the class average. By contrast, nearly 60 percent of all black and Hispanic applicants were admitted. Though the Times did not report their average SAT scores, it is a virtual certainty, given unbroken national patterns, that they were roughly a standard deviation below the class average.

At Harvard, legacy admissions are more qualified and more capable. Ivy League schools have always had legacy admissions. They never needed to set up special programs in special studies to get these students through college:

At Harvard, legacies are better candidates on average than other students, Harvard’s Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons said in a 2011 interview.  Nevertheless, blacks get a bigger boost than legacies, despite lower academic scores. In fact, the boost from being black is so strong that Harvard limits the contributions of non-race factors to a black applicant’s composite admissions rating. Just being black quadruples your chances of admission to Harvard. The university claims that if race were not a factor, then the percentage of blacks at the school would fall to 0.6 percent, compared with the current 14 percent. The Asian share of the student body would be at least 43 percent, by Harvard’s own estimate, compared with 18 percent, if race were removed from the admissions equation….

On average, Asians admitted from 2010 to 2015 at Harvard outperformed admitted blacks on the SAT by 218 points (admitted whites outperformed admitted blacks by 193 points). Test scores and GPA that would give an Asian only a 25 percent chance of admission at Harvard would be a virtual admissions guarantee—95 percent—for a black student.

Mac Donald offers the only sensible solution, merit based admissions:

Colleges should adopt a transparent, purely merit-based admissions system based on quantified tests of academic preparedness. Such a system would guarantee that entering freshmen were all equally prepared to compete academically, and would have the additional benefit of putting most college admissions officers out of a job. These self-important bureaucrats view themselves as artistes, using their exquisite insights into character to curate a utopian community of “diverse” individuals. The Harvard racial-preferences trial put such airs on nauseating display. In fact, admissions officers are simply allocating a scarce resource based on their own prejudices and inclinations.

Since college admissions have no problems admitting underqualified applicants to fulfill diversity quotas, they should not have a problem admitting the occasional underqualified white applicant. Even when it took bribery or cheating on tests.

Time will tell whether the current scandal will cause anyone to reconsider diversity programs. More likely than not, it will not. Because, being an ideologue means never having to admit that you are wrong.


trigger warning said...

Wealthy people greasing the skids for their spawn is not new, nor is it restricted to SAT cheating. The wealthy build buildings, endow chairs, and contribute to college funds. The colleges are ticked off because the dollars aren't going in their pockets. Harvard is a college attached to a hedge fund, as are many other "elite" college brands. Some even go broke leveraging the brand, like Bernie Sanders' wife's Burlington College.

I think the best idea to emerge in a while is the Trump Administration's policy to require that academic insitutions share the risk for student loans. I understand how that might damage the economies of tropical destinations and craft breweries, but so be it. College financial hacks shouldn't be, in effect, disbursing taxpayer dollars to neotenized adults.

UbuMaccabee said...

Soon the same class will build walls around their compounds and protect them with AI surveillance and drones and private police forces. They'll continue to flood the normals with illegal and legal immigrants and make sure the new Americans get just enough free shit to keep them loyal. Play the race card at every opportunity. This is their country, and we just live in it.

BTW, I admire the guy who gamed that system; he knows how rotten it really is. 500k for two brats to go to crappy USC? Nice money. I hope the next big scammer focuses of claiming special racial set-aside status. Hispanic is the easiest to game. If I were an American Indian tribe, I would be selling status to the highest bidder. I should pitch that to one of our local tribes, with me getting 15%.

The reason the whole thing is being inflated as the crime of the century is because the FBI is a corrupt joke and this gets them attaboys from people who only watch TV. So the ruling class tossed a couple of Hollywood has-beens to the wolves, so what? Frankly, I think this is a colossal waste of resources, on par with the great baseball PED investigation that was so important back in the late 1990's.

Meanwhile, they not only ignore an outright attempt at a coup, a coup that occurred right in front of them with complicity from their own leadership. At this point, I'm cheering for the criminals, they have more honor than our government.

Ithaca is the source of all evil, and anything that damages its credibility is a positive development.

Sam L. said...

They're "progressive" Democrats. They make their own rules for themselves. And, of course, "Money TALKS".

"Today’s great American universities leave you more stupid when you leave than you were when you entered." "Great" has been downgraded to "meh". Or perhaps, "once thought/supposed to be 'great'".

"In truth, however, legacy admissions tend to be academically qualified." I'm guessing that's because legatees grew up with college-educated parents who wanted their children to go to the same schools they did.