Inside Higher Ed

Anshul Barnwal | Dartmouth College

The Harvard Asian American lawsuit has drawn much attention in the wake of the Trump administration repeal of racially motivated admissions guidelines. In reality, seeking to strike down affirmative action in order to promote Asian American admission is ridiculous, because affirmative action is hardly the most exclusive admissions policy out there, and there are two policies in particular that deserve more attention.

The most exclusive admissions policies are also the most insidious. Standardized testing, for one, serves as a restraint against poor people. Testing each individual in each school the same way has the false assumption that each school offers the same level of education, when in reality, private school and affluent public schools have vastly different fundings and capabilities. Statistics back up the intuitive truth: almost every school district enrolling large numbers of low-income students has an average academic performance significantly below the national grade-level average. Furthermore, when studying for standardized tests like the SAT, affluent students can hire expensive tutors and study materials, while low-income students often lack such luxuries and thus perform worse. Children do not control they attend, so why punish those that attend schools that don’t adequately prepare them? The far more sensible option is to evaluate students exclusively relative to their class. Some schools, such as the University of Chicago, have already made standardized testing optional. Other schools should follow their lead, abolishing the need for the SAT or ACT on college applications.

Perhaps the most exclusive, deleterious admissions policy is legacy admission. Legacies, or applicants descended from alumni, face highly favorable chances when applying. Princeton, for instance, admits legacies at a rate four times that of normal applicants, while Harvard admits them at an even higher clip. While having the obvious utility of facilitating more donations to the school, legacy helps the children of a university’s previous batch of students come to the school, and when that previous batch is overwhelmingly rich and white, the policy helps that group at the expensive of people of color and the less privileged. Legacy is, essentially, affirmative action for affluent non-people of color, an insult to the tenets of meritocracy without any of the diversity-related benefits that come with racial mandates. Some defenders of legacy admission say that the reason for these figures is that legacies, because they are descended from well-educated, intelligent alumni, just happen to be more gifted than the general population. The problem with this argument is that if legacies can get accepted into selective universities regardless, there is no point in considering their legacy status at all! Legacies should be held to the same standard as everyone else and work just as hard to achieve the same admission. Other proponents of legacy admissions (notably, Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack) claim it supports a “family” centered around the college. This claim is patently absurd, as colleges claim to be hubs of diversity, meritocracy, and free thought-- they should be centered around intellectual and academic excellence and open-mindedness, and select only people that will make it a more stimulating environment.

College admissions in the status quo is still a classist, racially biased game. Despite all diversity-related initiatives and smokescreens, they remain more proportionally white now than they were twenty years ago, meaning that diversity has not been achieved and racial consideration is still necessary. They remain inordinately affluent compared to the general population as standardized testing and college counselors give certain applicants an unfair edge, and there is considerable work to be done to make admissions a fair enterprise.