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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.

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