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Our College Admissions System Is Rigged and Unnecessary

Our College Admissions System Is Rigged and Unnecessary

Monday, 25 March 2019 04:23 PM Current | Bio | Archive

As I have argued before, the hyper-selectivity of our nation’s elite colleges and universities does not contribute to the common good.

The admissions system is dysfunctional, arbitrary, and inherently prone to corruption and cronyism.

The recent admissions scandal, exposed to the public gaze by an FBI investigation leading to the indictment of 50 parents, coaches, and college officials at a dozen elite universities, is only the tip of the iceberg. The solution is simple: make admissions irrelevant, and restore honest grading and credentialing.

Why are so many parents so desperate to get their children into elite colleges that they are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe college admissions gatekeepers? Is it that their children are so much in love with learning that they would sacrifice anything to be able to sit at the feet of our country’s most advanced and challenging teachers? Hardly!

Rather, admission to a selective school is valued as an end in itself, not as a gateway to learning.

In fact, any learning that occurs in colleges today is almost entirely accidental. There are few required courses and no real core curriculum. Advanced math and foreign languages are no longer required. Students can earn credit from courses in political activism and gender and ethnic identity-formation. And grade inflation at top schools has reached such astronomical levels that a BA from Harvard or Stanford is little more than a certificate for consistent attendance.

What then does admission to a selective school yield? Two things.

First, admission is a necessary and practically a sufficient condition for earning a BA at an elite school, and such a BA has been historically a powerful signal to potential employers of one’s intellectual caliber.

Second, admission to selective schools gives students access to a social network of unique quality, which can contribute significantly to one’s future professional and business success. These two advantages will continue, even if large numbers of students are admitted for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their abilities, so long as a significant number of their peers are selected for real merit.

So long as there is such private gain to be had from admission to elite schools, the well-heeled, well-connected, and morally corrupt will find ways to game the system.

If it isn’t athletics, it will be music, drama, debate, or some other back-door access. My own university (an elite public university in a red state) had its own admissions scandal several years ago, in which it was revealed that our then-president used his arbitrary power to admit students to our top-ten law school (and to other prestigious programs) who were children and other relatives of state legislators and other political heavy-weights. As a consequence, the bar passage rate of the law school plummeted from over 90 percent to barely over a half (7th in the state). Even today, the university explicitly admits that it will sometimes admit students for “institutional” reasons, circumventing the usual admissions process. The university claims only that the admission to the University is “centered on” individual merit, not that it is solely based on such merit.

Even if the admissions system worked perfectly, admitting only the worthiest students to the elite schools, how exactly would that benefit the country as a whole? It might be to the long-run benefit, professionally and financially, to the students in the top schools, but this benefit comes almost entirely at the expense of students graduating from less prestigious institutions, a zero-sum game. By concentrating all of our best students (along with the best-connected and wealthiest) in a few elite schools we deprive all other students of the benefit of their presence as classmates and as spurs to excellence. The sorting of students by merit is one of the main drivers for the increase in income inequality over the last thirty years (as documented by Charles Murray in "Coming Apart").

There is a simple solution. Allow elite colleges and universities to continue their arbitrary and corrupt admissions systems, if they wish.

However, these selective schools should be required to make all course materials and lectures available online, and to open all of their end of course and end of degree exams to anyone willing to pay a nominal fee. The colleges must then award degrees to anyone receiving a passing grade in these exams, regardless of whether they have been officially “admitted” to the college. Admission should not limit access to the credential that successful learners can earn through demonstration of their knowledge. If your child can ace the exams at Harvard without attending Harvard classes, he or she should earn a Harvard degree. This would put the focus where it belongs: on learning, not on impressing admissions committees.

Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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As I have argued before, the hyper-selectivity of our nation’s elite colleges and universities does not contribute to the common good.
college, admissions, university
Monday, 25 March 2019 04:23 PM
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