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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Who gets in? Try dartboard admissions

The college admissions race is a waste of time, argues Rick Hess, education policy director of the American Enterprise Institute. Except for degrees that require particular skills, such as engineering or the performing arts, it's time to abolish selective college admissions for undergraduate education, he writes. Colleges could set minimum qualifications, and then use a dartboard to decide who gets in.

Photo: Kevin Malik/Pexels

"It’s time for the Stanfords, Swarthmores, and state flagships to show that they’re actually effective at educating students and not just at vacuuming up high-achievers, parking them in lecture halls and TA-led sections for four years, and then handing them off to consulting firms and graduate schools — all while charging students massive sums for the privilege of being selected," Hess writes.

Selective colleges are not "exceptionally rigorous" or demanding, writes Hess. Faculty and staff are told to be supportive -- and most students earn A's.

"Diversity" is skin deep, he writes.

At Harvard, nearly half of students are there due to some preference, such as being a “legacy” or the child of a wealthy donor. These “curated” student bodies don’t reflect the nation socioeconomically, nor do they reflect it intellectually. Ivy League student bodies are, on average, 68 percent Democrat and just 12 percent Republican. It’s easy to believe that there’d be more social benefit from these students interacting with a broader range of peers than their being collected in an artificial, like-minded hothouse.

The system "rewards students who can afford admissions coaches, who have parents or coaches who carefully 'edit' (or ghost-write) their applications, and who have been tutored in how to play to the proper ideological and identity notes in their heart-rending admissions essay," Hess writes. "It imposes an enormous psychic and financial toll on teens and parents."

It encourages fraud, he adds. "More than 60 percent of college students acknowledge including false information on their applications, with 39 percent saying they misrepresented their race or ethnicity, 30 percent admitting that they faked their letters of recommendation, and a third conceding that their personal essays were untrue."

Selectivity isn't unjust, writes Mark Bauerlein, making the case for selective admissions. An emeritus English professor at Emory, he's the author of The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

Wokesters claim a racially and ethnically diverse classroom "awakens young minds to the insights of difference," writes Bauerlein. "Perspectives widen, thoughtfulness spreads, cosmopolitan attitudes form." But, really, he writes, :such tactics only aggravate tensions and sensitivities."

The old selectivity likewise presumed the learning impact of students on one another, but of a different kind. It said that if you place smart, hardworking kids in a room together, each will push and inspire and frighten the others to work harder and learn more. Peer pressure will raise the intellectual bar. . . . There are only so many spaces in business and medical schools. A smart sophomore surrounded by lesser talents, on the other hand, doesn’t study so diligently. She’s confident, eventually complacent, and she doesn’t become what she ought to have become by the time of graduation.

"With youth culture becoming ever more screen-oriented and anti-intellectual, the value of having deep-thinking and book-reading peers grows with every roll-out of the next iPhone," he writes.

Bauerlein proposes asking college applicants:

  • “How many hours of leisure reading do you tally each week?”

  • “What book has influenced you most in the last three years?”

  • “What are the highest intellectual virtues?”

  • “What are the habits you would like your college roommate to have?”

Also, colleges should inquire about high-school grades and standardized test scores, he writes. "Despite modish ideas, that kind of selectivity will never stop mattering."

Adam Tyner challenges the conventional wisdom about college admissions tests. The SAT and ACT don't cause inequity, he argues.

193 views4 comments


Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
Mar 01, 2023

Marc Bauerlein, whose "Dumbest Generation" significantly influenced me, is right about prioritizing exam grades for selective admission: these have value for predicting success in rigourous majors like chemical-biological engineering, which, when awarded by selective universities, are those likeliest to repay the investments in time, energy, and money spent in achieving them, while many of the dull tools in "directional state university" would be better employed elsewhere.


Feb 28, 2023

Rigor and weed out courses used to be common place at many state run colleges and can't make it past the first course, you were filling out a drop slip and changing

majors (or giving it serious consideration).

Just wait until fall of 2025 when the enrollment rate is expected to plunge 10-15% due to a decline

in the birth rate during the Great Recession...


Feb 28, 2023
Replying to

What I'm noticing from hanging out in "Helicopter parent forums" for my kid's college is that... a lot of kids are arriving unclear on how to master tough material? First Sem my kid was worried that she was flunking and the dumbest one in her classes because she was the only one showing up for office hours for help.... Turns out, it wasn't that the other kids were better at the material, it's that they were worse at getting extra help and doing whatever it took to understand. She ended up doing fine because whenever she was confused by something in the huge lecture, she went to the professor and got clarification. (She also works really hard and has to be…


Feb 28, 2023

I disagree about selective colleges not being harder. Even my kid's non-engineering classes at her selective are harder than the local"directional state U," where a super-bright kid could cruise by since most classes don't ever reach even AP level. And there is an advantage to finally NOT BEING WEIRD - for rural kids from low population counties, a high IQ kid may literally never meet a true intellectual peer. Harvard is a bad example - it's always been a joke in terms of rigor. Princeton, Chicago, St. John's, etc. all had rigor 20 years ago. Has that changed?

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