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Are College Admissions Need-Blind?

Are College Admissions Need-Blind?

Shamus Khan | GOOD

June 07, 2010

How need-blind admission ignores the plight of poverty.

“Need-blind” admission is often considered the gold standard for colleges and universities. Those fortunate colleges that can claim to use such admission policies are those that represent the true promise of our nation: one where hard work and talent, not the background of the applicant, matters.

Yet need-blind admission is a farce. It is an aptly named policy, one where colleges are blind to the disadvantages of poverty or, better, willfully blind to the advantages of wealth.

With these practices, applicants who come from poor backgrounds are placed on an equal field as those who come from rich backgrounds. Never mind they never had private tutors, their parents likely did not attend college, they never spent summers at enrichment camps, weekends taking piano lessons, or vacations enjoying cultural tours of Europe. They are also more likely to have worked through school and, in all likelihood, attended a school that was underfunded.

Imagine for a moment if my university proposed that it be, say, “color blind” in its admissions. What would happen? There would, no doubt, be outrage in liberal America. And there would be tremendous impact on the racial composition of our student body. In their work, No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Radford show the racial advantages afforded to different racial groups.

Imagine you have two otherwise equal candidates—one is black, one is white. What is the impact of being black on one’s chances of being admitted? It’s equivalent to 340 points on a 1,600 point SAT. Being Latino gets you 130 points and being Asian gets you a penalty of 140 points.

Colleges are clearly taking race into account in admissions. This is a policy I agree with. In 1951, blacks made up approximately 0.8 percent of the students at elite colleges. Today, they make up about 8 percent of Ivy League students. Undertaking this kind of transformation has meant recognizing the impact of race on a student’s life chances—in particular, its impact on early life opportunities.

The result has been nothing short of a revolution in the racial composition of elite colleges, one made possible through “race conscious” admissions practices. To undo these practices would be to bring us much closer to the racial composition of the 1950s (with the exception of a massive increase in Asian students).

Why are colleges taking race into account but not class? Why are they race conscious but need blind? Why are students awarded or punished based on the wealth of their families?

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