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Higher Education Watch
A “Poverty Preference” in College Admissions?

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, a philanthropic organization that awards scholarships to low-income, high-achieving high school students, is earning some well-deserved media attention for its comprehensive report on how and why colleges should attract more kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. The National Journal reports:

As the Su­preme Court grapples with wheth­er to ban the use of race in col­lege ad­mis­sions, a new re­port calls in­stead for a “poverty pref­er­ence” as a way of en­sur­ing that stu­dents of all back­grounds have an equal chance to at­tend elite schools.

The na­tion’s eco­nom­ic and cre­at­ive vi­tal­ity hinge on our abil­ity to find the bright­est young people to fill lec­ture halls at the best uni­versit­ies, Har­old Levy, executive dir­ect­or of the Jack Kent Cooke Found­a­tion and former chan­cel­lor of New York City pub­lic schools, told a hand­ful of re­port­ers at a roundtable this week. But right now, even the smartest low-in­come stu­dents make up just 3 per­cent of en­roll­ment at elite schools.

… One crit­ic­al com­pon­ent of get­ting more high-achiev­ing, low-in­come kids in­to these schools is con­vin­cing the in­sti­tu­tions them­selves that it should be a pri­or­ity. Most schools say they want stu­dents from all back­grounds. But many have taken just mea­ger steps to make that a real­ity.

The report draws attention to some very important defects in the way opportunities and benefits are distributed in this country. There really are structural barriers in place that prevent poor students from accessing elite education. And a “poverty preference” is a much more coherent way to level the playing field than affirmative action, at least as affirmative action is currently practiced by campus diversity bureaucracies.

At the same time, we worry that philanthropic efforts to expand opportunity for poor people often focus too narrowly on funneling them into elite colleges. To be sure, this is a worthwhile effort—we should be focused on making college admissions as fair as possible. But we should also be approaching a problem for the other end—that is, making an elite education matter less when it comes to determining a person’s life prospects.

As we’ve written before, the existing college-to-employment pipeline is deeply unfair. Many of the biggest employers, in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, use university prestige as a proxy for intellectual ability, severely harming the prospects of students who either weren’t academically focused at age 17, or who, for personal or financial reasons, didn’t want to be a part of the elite education bubble. There are a number of ways to take on this problem, including creating a system of post-college national exams, or changing corporate recruitment policies, so that students from West Texas University and Chico State have a fair shot at competing with students from Princeton and Yale.

The populist tone of the 2016 campaign may suggest that ordinary Americans on both sides of the aisle feel that elites are hogging opportunities and privileges, and shutting them out from the best of the American dream. Our society should address this—not only by further opening access to elite schools, but by creating more paths to success that bypass the those schools entirely.

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  • Jim__L

    “But we should also be approaching a problem for the other end—that is, making an elite education matter less when it comes to determining a person’s life prospects.”

    Amen! But how do we incentivize the elites (who control the levers of power) to relinquish what gave them their power in the first place?

    • Fat_Man

      x

      • Jim__L

        ??

    • GS

      Why? Cast not the pearls before swine. “Elite education” has at least two meanings: (1) the same education as that received by the others, but with a shiny “elite” packaging [i.e. credentialing] and (2) obtaining a mastery of more information and cognitive skills, and at a higher level, than what the others [“non-elite”] possess. To an extent of (2), it takes an elite-level IQ, and therefore is simply not available to these others – just like the SEALs training is beyond reach for the people of average, and lower than average, physical shape. Feel free to try, and feel free to fail. And it is high time to flush the egalitarian impulse down the toilet. A smart elite opens itself to a meritocratic newcomers, but remains an elite – i.e. it is closed against those who do not measure up.

      • Jim__L

        Far too much of the time, elites put too much stock in their “elite education” and their “superiority”, even to the point of failing to engage with the subject at hand.

        Please re-read my post, and the original one as well. Or if you’d prefer, go back to your favorite ancient tragedy warning of the flaws of hubris and ambition.

        • GS

          Jim, I received exactly an “elite education” – in the good sense of that word combination. And during my subsequent professional life I could not help observing those without it. I was, and remain, underwhelmed.

      • richard40

        One way out for that is to start allowing for real objective employment tests again, without being subject to suits for disparate impact suits (actual intentional discrimination must be proven, not just disparate impact). Then you could tell an ivy graduate, who actually learned nothing, from a State U graduate who learned a lot more. I dont mind a bit losing to an ivy who really is more skilled, but I dont like losing to one who is merely more credentialed, without being more skilled. This is especially true for high gov jobs, which tend to almost always go to ivies, even really stupid ivies.

        • GS

          Yes, the Griggs decision is an abomination in dire need of being overturned.

  • qet

    There just aren’t that many graduates from “best” universities that we ought to concern ourselves with how all the rest stand a chance against them. I know people who grew up poor and attended state land grant agricultural and mechanical colleges and were not kept down or out by Yale or Princeton graduates. The issue is not the institution or the institutional arrangements but the character of the individuals. All of the angst over Ivy admissions practices is just that–angst.

    • Jim__L

      Ivy Leaguers are perceived to be the cogs in the regulatory state, imposing their views on the rest of the country. Do you think that perception is inaccurate?

      • qet

        I don’t really know. But all of the recent focus on Ivy admissions unfairness, including every TAI article on the subject, emphasizes the Ivies as some sort of Golden Gate Bridge to the promised land of economic prosperity and upward social class mobility. Admission to the Ivies must be democratized, so the reasoning goes, because the Ivies are a pathway to “elite” socio-economic status, and right now the current elites are hogging all that elite-bestowing potential for themselves.

        So my point was merely that the doors to the 1% can, and routinely are, opened by many many people who did not go either to an Ivy or to another “best” school.

    • InklingBooks

      I imagine by “not kept down” you’re referring to the more achievement-oriented private sector. Within government, I suspect graduates of the Ivies take special care to hand out jobs to fellow Ivies. That’s where the trouble lies.

      • qet

        Yes; see my reply to Jim_L. I don’t take the recent TAI posts on the subject of the Ivies and other “best” colleges to have been addressing them as portals to government jobs like so many Ecoles Normale Superieux.

    • richard40

      Tell that to some poor rural white guy, or poor asian, considered privileged, passed over by a black gal with rich parents, who had lower scores, but is considered disadvantaged and oppressed.

  • Andrew Allison

    How about a preparedness preference?

    • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

      The health outcomes are self reported and include vastly different definitions of live birth. No one is traveling to Ireland to get their cancer treated.

      • Andrew Allison

        A McKinsey and Co. report from 2008 found that between 60,000 to 85,000 medical tourists were traveling to the United States for the purpose of receiving in-patient medical care.[68] The same McKinsey study estimated that 750,000 American medical tourists traveled from the United States to other countries in 2007 (up from 500,000 in 2006).
        (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_tourism#United_States)

  • Fat_Man

    The easiest way to give everyone a fair shot at admission any selective college is a lottery. If all the kids at Harvard were there because of a random drawing, none of them could think that he was special in any way. Few of them would turn into whiny snots.

    • GS

      The Bell Curve. Absent the gross character flaws, and all other things being equal, an IQ 120 does not stand a chance vs. IQ 160 – a 160er would accomplish the same tasks in a fraction of the time it would take a 120er, or would do much more. And the only fair way to admit would be to administer a set of entrance exams [no multiple choice idiocies – I mean, the serious exams] and then to admit by the exam results, from the top down, without any bonus points for anything whatsoever – be it connections, recommendations, pigmentation, alumni descent, or economic background. The proper testing should be blind to all these.

      • Fat_Man

        It is politically unacceptable in this society to do that. No loser group will admit that they are inferior. They will insist that your test is biased. The old SAT with analogies, was not a bad test, and it has been trashed. The only thing that people of all classes and races can accept is a random draw.

        BTW most IQ scales use a mean of 100, and a standard deviation of 15. An IQ of 120 is 1.34 sd above mean. Assuming the yearly age cohort in the US is 4 million, there are ~400,000 kids with an IQ of 120 or higher. OTOH, at 160 (4 sd) there are ~100. Z score calculator. There won’t be enough of them to embarrass the 120s. And, you can’t run a large institution for them. Nor, can you be sure of finding them.

        • GS

          when the tests are conducted in the open, every loser admits that s/he is inferior and has been bested, just as one would have to do in a fistfight – there is no choice. As for your statistics, the IQ distribution starts deviating from the Gaussian at about plus 2.5-3 sigmas. The higher IQs are more numerous than one could calculate from the Gaussian tables. In the United States there are perhaps ten thousand such kids every year, just enough to fill MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford.

          • Boritz

            “the evidence is overwhelming”

            These are not the droids you’re looking for.

          • Fat_Man

            “every loser has to admit that s/he is inferior and has been beaten”

            I guess you never listen to sports talk radio. The fans can always blame the refs, and they always do. Likewise with tests. “Progressives” who are trying to gin up racial and ethnic resentment, have long decided that testing of all sorts is biased and unfair, and they have convinced a large chunk of the American people (half of whom are below average), that the bias is the reason for low performance, Remember, Obama was elected by a majority of Americans — twice.

            “In the United States there are perhaps ten thousand 160+ kids every year”

            I would be really interested in seeing a reference for that.

            I would not argue that the SAT is an IQ test. In the first 50 years after WWII, it did a fair job of tracking IQs. In 1995, they “recentered the SAT. Before that 1000 corresponded to an IQ of 100 and each 100 pts was a standard deviation. The recentering raised the median scores from 900 (425 V 475 ) to 1000, and increased the Standard Deviation to 220 pts. Since then the test has been further softened by eliminating analogies and requiring an essay section. Much of that was done to decrease the advantage boys had over girls. The test now has less correlation to IQ, and is easier than it was 20 years ago. BTW, they have announced a further dumbing down coming next year.

            If you were right about the prevalence of 160 IQs, there should be thousands of student getting perfect scores on the SAT. In 2015, 504 students got a perfect score, and in 2014, 583.

            SAT Links: 2015, 2014.

          • GS

            I guess you have never taken a written exam in the open format. 200+ test takers [proctored and watched over to prevent cheating] are in the room, the task [either an identical task for all, or several variants of comparable difficulty] is distributed, the clock starts going. When done, one comes to the large table and hands it down – and if you finished early, not only you know it, but everyone else in the room. You should have seen them looking at me as if I was a space alien, when I was handing in the [aced] GRE after 10-12 minutes of each 30 minutes section. At the end of the allotted time the papers, even if incomplete, are collected – and again, everyone there gets to know the laggards – and they know themselves to be the laggards, too. The open format comes when the grades of all test takers are posted in the open [either with the test-takers’ names, or coded by the numbers – each test taker knows his number, but not anyone else’s]. Or the oral exams, in the same open format – your grade is announced to you immediately, the others get to know it soon thereafter. Through my educational life I have probably taken more than a hundred of such tests. Nothing puts one in one’s proper place so well as a publicized failure.

          • Fat_Man

            Bully for you. But, you do not understand your fellow man.

          • GS

            Sometimes I understand them only too well. You should have seen these glances: “there he goes… again… watch out, he would sprout the fourth leg any minute now”. The only things missing were the finger-pointing and vocalizations of the aforementioned sentiment. The same glances, but not in an educational test situation, I was receiving when it turned out that I could read, write, and draw upside down [nothing special, by the way, but those looking at me strangely could not have done it and probably did not think it possible].

          • Fat_Man

            There are medicines for those problems. Talk to your doctor.

          • GS

            Since I do not want to grow either a tail or the hooves, I have to decline your suggestion.

        • Jim__L

          The SAT test without analogies is a far inferior test. There’s no other section on the test that actually tests your ability to think.

    • richard40

      I dont like that because there should still be some merit component. How about 50% of the admit score being blind merit, like SAT, and HS class rank, and the other 50% being the lottery you suggest, then total the 2 together. That way somebody dramatically better on merit should still definitely get in, and somebody much worse on merit would not, but all the close cases in between get decided by your lottery..

      • Fat_Man

        The moment you allow a “merit” component into the admissions process, two things happen. The first one is that you give the College Administrations room to play with the process. That is a bad idea because they have throughly proven over many years that they are corrupt, political, and anti-conservative in their admissions decsions. The second one is that the usual suspects will start complaining that the merit criteria are racist and culturally biased. That is bad thing, because political pressure from those groups has resulted in the dumbing down of the SAT and the high school cirriculums.

        You must understand, that all of B$ about college admissions that the system currently emits, is just that. The system is political in the extreme, it is geared toward taking the brighter children of the ruling elite and seating them on the upper deck of life’s bus. The colleges teach very little and spend most of their effort towards indoctrination of the students in the leftist narrative. They admit a small number of high acheivers from outside the magic circle. E.g. the 10% of allowable Asians, who are mostly the children of doctors who are slated to go to medical school, and who will not be allowed anywhere near the levers of power in the media and government. They also admit a small number of unqualified applicants who check the right race or ethnicity boxes. They will become left-wing shock troops, because their experience of being hot house pets will be so embittering.

        Only a random draw system can blow up the current configuration, and that is necessary to save the republic.

        • richard40

          Any elite college who has only a totally random admissions process is no longer an elite institution. They will basically take anybody no matter how stupid, even if they barely passed HS. Do you think Harvard would continue to get the present high SAT high grade pool of applicants if their admissions were totally random. No way, you will see applicants with SAT scores and HS grades so low they are totally incapable of doing rigorous academic work. Your plan would turn Harvard into another community college, but just one that costs more. The most likely result is Harvard will once again become what they used to be, before they started considering test scores for admissions, a college for relatively stupid rich people. Do you think high caliber faculty will be eager to tech a class of totally stupid rich people? Your random idea is a good way of deciding between those who are fairly close to each other in the marginal admissions group according to objective criteria, but totally random, no way.
          I agree your plan would blow up elite institutions, but the real goal should not be to destroy them, but reform enough to ensure they really are elite on merit, not just politics or wealth.

          • Fat_Man

            “Any elite college who has only a totally random admissions process is no longer an elite institution.”

            That is true. I want to destroy the “Ivy League” as an elite institution. I want to do that because the elite they have created is abominable in almost every dimension other than their ability to get admitted to fancy colleges. There is no reason to provide these institutions with the level of subsidies that the government now gives them.

            “It would lead to half of their classes being HS level remediation courses”

            The system of admissions only determines the curriculum if the college wants it to. Under the current system, the “Ivy League” colleges just want to keep their high paying customers (a/k/a students) pacified. They have no academic requirements, and they never flunk anybody out. Under random draw admissions the colleges that did not want to become glorified community coleges would be free to impose rigorus ciriculums. Require all freshmen to take Latin, calculus, and general chemistry, and you will clean out the dead wood by Christmas.

            “Do you think high caliber faculty will be eager to teach a class of mostly stupid rich people?”

            The truth is that they don’t teach the undergraduates they have now. “Ivy League” college students are taught by grad students and academic gypsies. The tenured faculty hasn’t seen an undergraduate in years. They spend their time on their research and their consulting.

            “reform enough to ensure they really are elite on merit, not just politics or wealth.”

            At least you understand that the elite colleges are about politics and wealth, not merit. As I argue in other posts in this thread, the current political system will not accept a true merit system. Americans believe that all of their children are above average. European countries can run systems where college seats are parceled out on the basis of rigorous national examinations. Americans just won’t accept that.

  • submandave

    Interesting idea about “changing corporate recruitment policies.” Many don’t know that at one time most companies would administer employment tests, quantitatively assessing the aptitude of applicants. This practice was criticized as an enabler for racist hiring practices, so the companies opted for using a college diploma instead as a general measure for ability.

    • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

      Those tests or anything like them are illegal under disparate impact doctrine. We have not merely gotten rid of invidious racist discrimination but any discrimination. That is, by law, we can’t tell one from the other.

      • richard40

        Yes, its kind of hard to buy that a multiple choice test of job knowledge, or a multiple choice basic skills test, graded blindly by machine, can be racially discriminatory. After all we all know that no racial group is ever less intelligent than others, they tell all us conservatives that constantly, so shouldn’t they have just as good of a chance to pass the test. Of course they might come from lousy schools, but we cant fix that either with school vouchers, because that would offend the teachers unions.

  • http://whenfallsthecoliseum.com/author/kwatson/ megapotamus

    Yeah, there are Haardvarks and Yalies out there doling lucre for secret handshakes at the higher levels of society but their commitment to scholastic tribalism can’t hold a candle to the Auburn, Clemson crowd and their ilk. I would bet these State schools do pretty well on broad-based admission and, in my experience, no level of incompetence or proven stupidity can overcome a cry of “War Frikkin’ Eagles” at hiring time even if the job is say, pharma sales for which one would hope to have at least a biochem undergrad. Nah, we were in the same frat! Dude! Ugh. It’s amazing we continue ten minutes like this.

  • richard40

    But we cant just give preferences to poor people, because that might help the wrong kind of poor people, you know those pushy Asians who study all the time, and those rednecks with their guns and religion. We cant have any of them, some of them might even be republicans, the horror. And even if this helps some of the right PC groups, it wont help any rich people in those groups, you know our kind of people, that wont cut it. Instead we need preferences to help out the right kind of people, our kind of people, whether they are rich or not. You all need to hear the truth on this, just ask you local diversity administrator, or dem politician, they will set you straight.

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