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Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The Truth About Legacy Admissions
Even before the tumultuous election year of 2016 churned up the ugly sludge of America's racist history, the broiling issue of affirmative action in college admissions simmered ominously in the background. Last week, the issue was pulled to center stage when it was discovered that the Trump administration intended to investigate affirmative action-in order to make sure that white students weren't being unfairly overlooked.
Setting aside, for the moment, the unassailable fact that white and Asian students comprise the vast majority of all university students, a conversation getting less traction in the media is the one that should be happening, about legacy admits.
It's fairly easy to track the racial make-up of existing students. It's much harder to track statistics on students who applied and did not get in. But various higher education analyses reveal that legacy admits are several times as likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. Legacy admits also come overwhelmingly from the upper class-a group of students that already has a thumb on the scale of privilege.
It's worth noting that legacy candidates make up a relatively small percentage of admittees (around 6%), and that legacy advantage seems to be greater at highly selective colleges. Legacy admits are overwhelmingly white and wealthy, and because they are a monetary boon to the universities, the practice is unlikely to be questioned or abolished.
It is, however, another form of the very affirmative action that many raucously oppose. Despite the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the dominant classes in higher education, there exists a palpable fear that non-white students will somehow be handed something for free. This is the very ideology that underscored the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia this week.
It's crucial to remember that universities are much more than hallowed institutions of learning. They are big businesses. Legacy admissions are vital to their brand and their bottom line. Strip all that away, however, and you’ll find that they are simply another form of preferential admission. One that hides quietly in the background, largely unchecked.
Monday, August 7, 2017
UCI Under Fire for Rescinding Admissions Offers
In March of each calendar year, the University of California sends out hundreds of thousands of acceptance letter. Acceptance rates vary by campus, but all students typically have just a couple of months to commit to attending. The UC, like any university system, understands that this is a numbers game. Like airlines overbooking seats, the UC sends out more admissions offers than it can actually accommodate. That's because they know that not all students who are admitted will actually attend. Universities, like airlines, don't want to run the risk of having empty seats.
Last week, the University of California at Irvine, drew sharp criticism for rescinding the admissions offers of 499 students. UCI had accidentally overbooked its flight. In order to save face, the university searched for loopholes.
Admission is provisional for all students, contingent upon their academic performance in the second semester of their senior year of high school. This year, because UCI had underestimated the numbers of incoming students, the university was forced to scrutinize those second semester grades and make some pretty brutal cuts.
Still, this was a case of soft administrative fumbles. In some cases, high schools had failed to timely mail the students' grades to UCI. After the rescission letters went out, UCI was unable to keep up with the frenzy of email and telephone queries from shell-shocked students. Because universities don't always get around to looking at post-acceptance grades, the rescission came as a huge surprise to students.
Within a matter of days, UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman issued a public apology and reinstated 290 of the 499 students. Many of the remaining students had grades that had dropped below Cs in their last high school semester. Of those who appealed, just eight have been reinstated.
This is not the first time technical glitches have plagued the UC. In 2009, roughly 28,000 students received acceptances to UC San Diego in error. However, while misfires such as these may draw attention, they are unlikely to dilute student demand. The University of California is the largest university system in the world in terms of economic impact. The system employs tens of thousands of some of the top educators across the globe. Each year, there are more than 250,000 students attending the UC's nine campuses.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Trump Takes on Affirmative Action
The Department of Justice announced this week that it intends to conduct an investigation into affirmative action practices at U.S. universities. Its intent is to uncover policies that discriminate against white applicants. The enquiry will be run by members of the DoJ rather than through the non-partisan Educational Opportunities Section, which is typically in charge of such matters.
The furor surrounding affirmative action is symbolic of the nation's larger problems with race. The practice was originally intended to aid historically oppressed groups who were (and remain) proportionally underrepresented at U.S. universities. This has always irked the privileged classes, who have poured years of time and money into undermining affirmative action policies.
Though race-based college admissions is now outlawed in many states (even progressive California), universities have since modified policies to give them the flexibility to evaluate incoming students holistically. Beyond grades and test scores, universities have a great deal of latitude in filling up their freshman classes. This gray area infuriates students who don't get in.
In 2016 U.S. Supreme Court upheld race-base admissions policies in the State of Texas by a ruling of 4-3 in Fisher v University of Texas. Abigail Fisher, a white student, brought the suit years ago after failing to be admitted at the university. Similar suits (by white and Asian-American students) have been waiting on the Fisher result before winding their way through appellate courts.
Like many of the Trump administration policy changes, this one is likely to galvanize a conservative base, and it's impossible to know whether or not (or when) the DoJ will take action. Also unclear is what such an investigation is likely to accomplish. Admissions criteria are notoriously opaque, and race is just one of countless demographics colleges may consider in accepting new students. On this and other issues, the long-term effects of the volatile political climate in the U.S. remain incalculable.
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