A Legacy SAT Bonus

A The New York Times piece highlights the findings of a study addressing how colleges can try to level the playing field.

Lots of folks have made lots of different proposals over the years on how to improve the admissions process to our nation’s highly selective colleges. Some have been good, some not so good. A newly published paper by a team of well-known economists isn’t shy about proposing an SAT bonus for low- and middle-income students. It’s not exactly an idea that hasn’t been proposed before (it has!), but the paper at least relies on publicly available data to make its case — so it’s certainly deserving of our spotlight today. This is especially the case since it has long been a cause of ours at Ivy Coach to help usher to an end the archaic practice of legacy admissions at our nation’s elite universities.

Economists Propose SAT Bonus for Low and Middle-Income Students to Further Level Playing Field

In their paper entitled “Income Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility Across Colleges in the United States,” Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, and Danny Yagan propose an SAT bonus on a sliding scale of 64-160 points based on family income. Such a bonus, the economists write, “would have substantial effects on upward mobility in among college-goers in the U.S.  Prior work shows large gaps in the expected outcomes of college students from high- and low-income families; equalizing attendance rates for students with the same test scores would reduce the outcome gap by 15%.”

Our Nation’s Elite Colleges Too Often Overlook Middle-Income Students

We have long argued on the pages of this college admissions blog that while high-income families and low-income families stand to benefit greatly in the admissions process, our nation’s most highly selective colleges are effectively overlooking middle-income families. This paper shines a spotlight on how our nation’s elite colleges can attract — and admit — more deserving middle-income students. As Dana Goldstein and Anemona Hartocolllis write of the study in a piece for The New York Times entitled “A Simple Way to Equalize the Ivies? Give Others the Legacy SAT Bonus,” “The research adds to a continuing conversation about the ‘missing middle’ on selective college campuses. It shows that relative to high-achieving affluent and low-income students, students with high test scores from the middle class — those from households earning between $25,000 and $111,000 per year — enroll in Ivy League-caliber institutions at lower rates.”

Admissions Deans Should Apply the Findings of This Study to the Admissions Process

Regrettably, we don’t foresee the findings of this paper having any demonstrable impact on the admissions process at any of our nation’s highly selective colleges. It’s not as though it’s news to these schools that they’re “missing the middle” by admitting so many students from low-income and high-income families. And yet this is an important study, one every college admissions officer should read — even the admissions officers who claim legacy candidates don’t have as big of an edge in the admissions process as many seem to think (if we had a dollar for every time an admissions officer falsely claimed a legacy applicant would only earn admission over a non-legacy applicant if all else were equal, we’d have lots of dollars!).

Elite College Admissions Can and Must Be “Moneyballed”

The game of baseball was changed forever by Billy Beane, the front office leader of the Oakland A’s, when he — against popular wisdom — chose to apply data-driven analytics to baseball in what would become known as “Moneyball.” The first college admissions dean to an elite university to apply the results of this study to the admissions process will be the first to “Moneyball” the college admissions process. And boy will we be rooting for them. So who will it be? Dean Furda? Dean Guttentag? Dean Coffin? Dean Fitzsimmons? Dean Quinlan? Dean Shaw? Bueller, Bueller, Bueller?


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