References List of Bookmarks Just before the Labor Day weekend, a front page New York Times story broke the news of the largest cheating scandal in Harvard University history, in which nearly half the students taking a Government course on the role of Congress had plagiarized or otherwise illegally collaborated on their final exam. In the last generation or two, the funnel of opportunity in American society has drastically narrowed, with a greater and greater proportion of our financial, media, business, and political elites being drawn from a relatively small number of our leading universities, together with their professional schools. Indeed, the early success of Facebook was largely due to the powerful imprimatur it enjoyed from its exclusive availability first only at Harvard and later restricted to just the Ivy League.
The Battle for Elite College Admissions As a direct consequence, the war over college admissions has become astonishingly fierce, with many middle- or upper-middle class families investing quantities of time and money that would have seemed unimaginable a generation or more ago, leading to an all-against-all arms race that immiserates the student and exhausts the parents.
The absurd parental efforts of an Amy Chua, as recounted in her bestseller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, were simply a much more extreme version of widespread behavior among her peer-group, which is why her story resonated so deeply among our educated elites.
Even billionaires, media barons, and U.
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Senators may weigh their words and actions more carefully as their children approach college age. And if such power is used to select our future elites in a corrupt manner, perhaps the inevitable result is the selection of corrupt elites, with terrible consequences for America.
Thus, the huge Harvard cheating scandal, and perhaps also the endless series of financial, business, and political scandals which have rocked our country over the last decade or more, even while our national economy has stagnated.
ORDER IT NOW Just a few years ago Pulitzer Prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Golden published The Price of Admission, a devastating account of the corrupt admissions practices at so many of our leading universities, in which every sort of non-academic or financial factor plays a role in privileging the privileged and thereby squeezing out those high-ability, hard-working students who lack any special hook.
An admissions system based on non-academic factors often amounting to institutionalized venality would seem strange or even unthinkable among the top universities of most other advanced nations in Europe or Asia, though such practices are widespread in much of the corrupt Third World.
Or consider the case of China. There, legions of angry microbloggers endlessly denounce the official corruption and abuse which permeate so much of the economic system.
But we almost never hear accusations of favoritism in university admissions, and this impression of strict meritocracy determined by the results of the national Gaokao college entrance examination has been confirmed to me by individuals familiar with that country.
This perhaps explains why so many sons and daughters of top Chinese leaders attend college in the West: During the s, the established Northeastern Anglo-Saxon elites who then dominated the Ivy League wished to sharply curtail the rapidly growing numbers of Jewish students, but their initial attempts to impose simple numerical quotas provoked enormous controversy and faculty opposition.
Therefore, the approach subsequently taken by Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell and his peers was to transform the admissions process from a simple objective test of academic merit into a complex and holistic consideration of all aspects of each individual applicant; the resulting opacity permitted the admission or rejection of any given applicant, allowing the ethnicity of the student body to be shaped as desired.
As a consequence, university leaders could honestly deny the existence of any racial or religious quotas, while still managing to reduce Jewish enrollment to a much lower level, and thereafter hold it almost constant during the decades which followed.
As Karabel repeatedly demonstrates, the major changes in admissions policy which later followed were usually determined by factors of raw political power and the balance of contending forces rather than any idealistic considerations.
For example, in the aftermath of World War II, Jewish organizations and their allies mobilized their political and media resources to pressure the universities into increasing their ethnic enrollment by modifying the weight assigned to various academic and non-academic factors, raising the importance of the former over the latter.
Indeed, Karabel notes that the most sudden and extreme increase in minority enrollment took place at Yale in the years —69, and was largely due to fears of race riots in heavily black New Haven, which surrounded the campus.
Philosophical consistency appears notably absent in many of the prominent figures involved in these admissions battles, with both liberals and conservatives sometimes favoring academic merit and sometimes non-academic factors, whichever would produce the particular ethnic student mix they desired for personal or ideological reasons.
Different political blocs waged long battles for control of particular universities, and sudden large shifts in admissions rates occurred as these groups gained or lost influence within the university apparatus: Yale replaced its admissions staff in and the following year Jewish numbers nearly doubled.
Despite these plain facts, Harvard and the other top Ivy League schools today publicly deny any hint of discrimination along racial or ethnic lines, except insofar as they acknowledge providing an admissions boost to under-represented racial minorities, such as blacks or Hispanics.
But given the enormous control these institutions exert on our larger society, we should test these claims against the evidence of the actual enrollment statistics.
Jews were a high-performing group, whose numbers could only be restricted by major deviations from an objective meritocratic standard. Since their strong academic performance is coupled with relatively little political power, they would be obvious candidates for discrimination in the harsh realpolitik of university admissions as documented by Karabel, and indeed he briefly raises the possibility of an anti-Asian admissions bias, before concluding that the elite universities are apparently correct in denying that it exists.
Princeton sociologist Thomas J. Espenshade and his colleagues have demonstrated that among undergraduates at highly selective schools such as the Ivy League, white students have mean scores points higher on the SAT scale than their black classmates, but Asian students average points above whites.
The former gap is an automatic consequence of officially acknowledged affirmative action policies, while the latter appears somewhat mysterious. Fortunately, we can investigate the plausibility of these claims by examining the decades of officially reported enrollment data available from the website of the National Center for Educational Statistics NCES.
Harvard had always had a significant Asian-American enrollment, generally running around 5 percent when I had attended in the early s. However, from that year forward, the Asian numbers went into reverse, generally stagnating or declining during the two decades which followed, with the official figure being Even more surprising has been the sheer constancy of these percentages, with almost every year from — showing an Asian enrollment within a single point of the By contrast, prior to Asian enrollment had often changed quite substantially from year to year.
It is interesting to note that this exactly replicates the historical pattern observed by Karabel, in which Jewish enrollment rose very rapidly, leading to imposition of an informal quota system, after which the number of Jews fell substantially, and thereafter remained roughly constant for decades.
On the face of it, ethnic enrollment levels which widely diverge from academic performance data or application rates and which remain remarkably static over time provide obvious circumstantial evidence for at least a de facto ethnic quota system.
In another strong historical parallel, all the other Ivy League universities seem to have gone through similar shifts in Asian enrollment at similar times and reached a similar plateau over the last couple of decades. As mentioned, the share of Asians at Harvard peaked at over 20 percent inthen immediately declined and thereafter remained roughly constant at a level 3—5 points lower.
Asians at Yale reached a The Columbia peak also came in and the Cornell peak inin both cases followed by the same substantial drop, and the same is true for most of their East Coast peers. During the mid- to lates, there had been some public controversy in the media regarding allegations of anti-Asian discrimination in the Ivy League, and the Federal Government eventually even opened an investigation into the matter.
But once that investigation was closed inAsian enrollments across all those universities rapidly converged to the same level of approximately 16 percent, and remained roughly static thereafter See chart below. Put another way, the percentage of college-age Asian-Americans attending Harvard peaked aroundand has since dropped by over 50 percent, a decline somewhat larger than the fall in Jewish enrollment which followed the imposition of secret quotas in It should also be noted that Hughes strongly emphasizes his own enthusiastic participation in varsity sports as a Harvard undergraduate, while avoiding mention of any academic interests.Top Successful College Essays.
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