I argued last month that the recent admissions scandal demonstrates that the system of admission to our selective colleges and universities is rigged, unfair, and contrary to the public interest
I now to the question of whether selective admissions are really necessary at all.
Can we imagine a system in which prestigious degrees are accessible to everyone with the ability and perseverance to obtain them? Yes, in fact, a fair and open system is easy to imagine and to implement.
Moreover, a reformed system would also fix the other, often unspoken side of our broken system: the runaway grade inflation at elite schools that makes admission so valuable that unqualified students are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get in.
For example, the median grade for Harvard is now an A-, and three-fourths graduate with honors. Such inflation is the rule rather than the exception in today’s elite colleges.
There are only fifty highly selective colleges and universities in the country — defined by schools that accept fewer than 25% of applicants.
These fifty schools are also, not coincidentally, the richest schools in the country, with billions of dollars of endowments to draw upon.
In the modern world, there is no reason for these schools to turn away motivated and qualified students. Education is no longer limited by the size of classrooms in brick-and-mortar buildings.
Every highly selective college should be required to put every lecture and class discussion online in a timely manner. Inexpensive video cameras on cell phones and the internet make such a system of open lectures incredibly cheap, well within the means of existing colleges. These lectures should be freely available to all: a tremendous boost to the educational opportunities of everyone on the planet.
Moreover, there is no reason why exams and other graded assignments cannot be made available to students willing to take them, whether or not they have been officially “admitted” to the school. The country is honey-combed with secure testing centers, used to administer SAT, GMAT, and other standardized tests. More testing centers could easily be commissioned. Whenever a Harvard class sits for an exam, the same exam could be made simultaneously available to thousands of qualified students across the country. These external students should be required to pay a fee no larger than is needed to support the testing centers and to enable Harvard to hire enough qualified graders to meet the demand. Harvard would then have to grade all the exams (both those taken by admitted and those taken by external students) in “blind” manner, with the graders unaware of which category a test-taker falls into. A similar system could be applied to all graded class assignments.
Finally, if a student succeeds in passing all of the courses required for a Harvard degree, he or she should be awarded that degree, with a transcript that does not indicate whether the student was an admitted or external student. In this way, the number of students able to earn prestigious degrees in our best universities would be multiplied many times over, creating much greater and fairer opportunity to all.
Moreover, Harvard, Stanford, and other elite colleges would be forced to end runaway grade inflation. They could not afford to continue to give A’s to all exam takers without immediately destroying the value of their degrees. Thus, the selective colleges will be saved from themselves, prevented from engaging in grade-inflating behavior that, if left unchecked, will eventually bring down the whole system.
What if an elite college refuses to participate in the new Open University system? The IRS should simply deny tax-exempt and tax-deductible status to any such institution, on the grounds that tax benefits in these cases would be contrary to public policy and the public good. No college would be willing to pay such a price in order to avoid opening its offerings to the public.
It would be reasonable to put some limits on students who can enter the Open University system — we could set a minimum SAT or ACT score, for example. However, the number of students eligible to earn prestige would be at least four or five times greater than in the current system.
The cost of providing and grading exams and other assignments would be relatively modest — no more than 10 or 15% of current tuition rates. Thanks to the oversupply of PhDs in recent years, there are hundreds of thousands of un- and under-employed academics with PhDs from good schools who would readily accept employment as official graders for elite colleges at modest rates of pay. In fact, English universities like Oxford and Cambridge have long provided extra income to scholars for just such work.
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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