Posted on December 21, 2020

Should Ivy League Schools Randomly Select Students (At Least for a Little While)?

Gina Bellafante, New York Times, December 18, 2020

From mid-December through the end of March, tens of thousands of high-school seniors around the country will endure the torture of waiting to hear whether they have been accepted to college. The current admissions season is unfolding now amid a pandemic that has only intensified inequities in an education system that has relentlessly favored the well-off and aggressively prepared.

Left with the deficiencies of remote learning, school districts around the country have been reporting soaring instances of failing grades. {snip}


Given the difficulties of administering standardized tests during the current crisis, 500 colleges and universities have waived the SAT as a requirement for admission. While that might seem like a welcome curative for so much anxiety, in the absence of test scores (as well as so many extracurricular activities that have fallen by the wayside since the onset of the coronavirus) a capable student from a little-known school in the South Bronx may be more challenging to evaluate. {snip}

For the most part, the country’s top private colleges and universities have met the moment of explosive social reckoning this year with the earnest rhetoric of avowal and commitment to further the work of diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI,” in occupational parlance). They have turned to panels and subcommittees and task forces and the renaming of buildings implicating odious histories with no apparent impulse to relinquish status as some of the most exclusive institutions on earth.

It is hard to miss the paradox of an approach professing fidelity to the work of heightening access as it remains fundamentally wedded to the business of rejection. A school’s prestige is embedded in saying no. Last year, the Ivy League on average said no to 94 percent of those who applied. {snip}

In the world of higher education, the real work of diversity, equity and inclusion would demand a radical rethinking of admissions. It would extend beyond scholarships and financial aid to students from low-income families, who are still expected to excel in environments with countless obstacles to their ambitions. Over the past quarter-century, the notion of admitting students to elite colleges by lottery has been floated in op-eds with some regularity, never getting any real traction and generally with the understanding that the students whose names would be pulled out of the hat, already met the basic outlines of a school’s exacting academic criteria.

But what if — even as a temporary measure to try and rectify some of the injustices of a pandemic that has left so many with so much less — these schools deployed their enormous resources to randomly select students from a vast pool that included more than merely the exceptionally credentialed? What if elite colleges chose students whose resilience had so far eluded them? Whose schoolwork went off the rails during an epic crisis in which they were forced to work because parents lost their jobs? A revolution in the name of fairness would seem to require, at the minimum, the abandonment of perfection as a baseline, an understanding that failure is not the assassin of potential.