Moneyball for College Admissions

Moneyball and College Admissions, College Admissions Moneyball, College Admission Moneyball

Who will be the Billy Beane of highly selective college admissions? Data should indeed play an increased role in the process (photo credit: Brett Farmiloe).

Moneyball for college admissions! There is a terrific editorial in “The Harvard Crimson” entitled “Moneyball for Admissions: Harvard Could Benefit from Adopting a More Data-Driven Approach to College Admissions” written by Jonathan Z. Zhou that we wanted to bring to the attention of our loyal readers. In the editorial, Zhou points out that the highly selective college admissions process is a bit archaic, that it resembles, in a way, Major League Baseball before Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane helped usher in the new Moneyball era of sport.

In response to a “New York Times” op-ed published by Ruth Starkman, an application reader, Zhou writes, “Baseball scouting has come a long way since Billy Beane’s innovation. Yet, surprisingly, holistic assessment and gut feelings still prevail in college admission. Despite the objective criteria that Starkman was instructed to follow, the admissions process was confusingly subjective. In Starkman’s training sessions, she was told to look for the ‘bigger picture’ of a candidate’s life and that candidates who ‘help build the class’ were more valuable. At times, these criteria seemed purposefully vague to encourage subtle racial discrimination and preference for wealthier students.”

Perhaps what is most interesting about Zhou’s very well written piece is his suggestion that college admissions officers at highly selective colleges like Harvard actually take a look at, say, if volunteers in high school are more likely to donate to their future alma maters than those who don’t volunteer. It’s data Harvard would have access to indeed. Or, say, which AP classes are most predictive of a student’s college GPA. Why not mine this data? College admissions offices have tons and tons of data that they can mine. And yet they mine so little of it. Zhou is right. Why not try to improve the system with the help of data-driven analytics?

Someone we know has tried to do this in television, too. Folks are always reluctant to change the status quo. But this eventually catches up with them.


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