Our View on Equal Education: Admission to College Isn’t Just About Grades, Test Scores

USA Today, July 7, 2008

Jian Li was the ideal high school student. He had perfect scores on the SAT reading, writing and math tests. He graduated in the top 1% of his class. He participated in lots of extracurriculars, including leadership roles. And yet in 2006, Princeton University turned him down. Why?

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Although Li was admitted to Yale University, he filed a complaint against Princeton with the federal Department of Education, which earlier this month confirmed it was using Li’s complaint to take a broad look at Princeton’s admissions policies to determine whether discrimination against Asians was involved. On the surface, Li appears to have a good case. According to a study done by two Princeton scholars, if students were admitted on grades and test scores alone, the acceptance rate for African American and Latino students would plummet while the rate for Asians would rise sharply.

That says high-scoring Asian students face higher admissions hurdles, but it does not necessarily prove discrimination. Tests scores and grades have never been the sole basis for admission to college; nor should they be. {snip}

In the 1978 University of California Regents v. Bakke decision, the Supreme Court ruled out race-based quotas and separate admissions tracks for students of different ethnicities. The court did, however, allow colleges to consider applicants’ race and ethnicity as “one of many factors.” Twenty-five years later, the court clarified Bakke by ruling out point-based admissions (giving minority students extra points) but allowing subtler evaluations of applicants.

Translated, that means universities routinely hand out what looks like preferences to get the freshman class they want. Football players, oboe players, dancers, minorities, children of alumni and men (yes, many colleges favor men to keep their campuses from becoming too female) at times find the scales tipped in their favor.

That is discrimination only if you imagine that university admissions policies are designed solely to sweep up the highest-scoring students.

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But the goal of that process—to produce a diverse freshman class where students are exposed in college to the mix of races, ethnicities and viewpoints that await them in the world beyond—is a good one and worthy of preserving.

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