Separate Admissions Systems: They Aren't Just For The Rich

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It didn’t take terribly long — and I’d like to believe that my article had something to do with it, but that’s probably overly vain — before all of those people decrying some wealthier people trying end arounds of the collegiate admissions systems realized that what Lori Loughlin and others have been accused of doing was not the only way that lesser qualified students were winning seats over what the United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling called ” honest, genuinely talented student(s).”


Mr Lelling said:

This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal justice system either. For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.

Well, of course there is a “separate college admission system for the wealthy,” and everybody knows it. Mrs Loughlin’s problem wasn’t that she used her money to get two daughters into the University of Southern California, but that she was too cheap about it, (allegedly) spending $500,000 to find a back door way around the problem by arranging a prospective athletic admission, claiming that her daughters rowed crew. Had she not been cheap, had she donated several million dollars to endow an academic chair or build a new wing on the library, of course her daughters would have been accepted to Southern Cal, with open arms, through the front door; that policy at Harvard University has already been revealed in court.

There are other separate college admission systems as well. Athletic admissions are an obvious example, and if you can catch a football or dunk a basketball. From Inside Higher Education:

A Competitive Disadvantage

At academically competitive institutions with big-time college sports, a large gap exists between athletes and the average student — leaving plenty of room for colleges to compromise their academic mission.

By Jake New | November 19, 2014

Speaking to the University of Michigan faculty senate last week, Mark Schlissel, the university’s president, was candid in his assessment of the admissions process for athletes. “We admit students who aren’t as qualified,” he said. “And it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year.”

His comments — made as the University of North Carolina is still reeling from a high-profile academic scandal where athlete preparedness was a central issue — were perhaps too candid for some.

Schlissel became president of Michigan in July after serving as provost for three years at Brown University, an institution with a very different take on athletics. In his short time at Michigan, Schlissel has been pressured by angry students, alumni, fans, and the board of regents to replace the university’s since-resigned athletic director. Schlissel said he wants to take his time and find a new athletic director who has “academic integrity,” while many fans want him to hire an athletic director who will quickly fire the current football coach, Brady Hoke. “I’ve really learned that this whole athletic sphere and the usual way you approach things just doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s just a crazed or irrational approach that the world and the media takes to athletics decisions.”

The president later publicly apologized for his remarks and the stir they caused, though not before Hoke swiftly offered a rebuttal, explaining that Michigan is a university that boasts both a proud athletic tradition and strong academics. “Being truly an academic institution that it is, that degree will last forever,” he said. “So we take it very seriously.”


I was happy to find that statement from the President of the University of Michigan, given that Michigan was the college at the heart of the two Affirmative Action cases of 2003, Grutter v Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, and Gratz v Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244.  I noted previously that the Supreme Court had “expect(ed) that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Well, it seems that Theresa Vargas, a columnist for The Washington Post, has also realized that Affirmative Action constitutes a separate college admissions system which would come under fire due to the current kerfuffle, and is trying to nip it in the bud.

Now that we see what stealing a college slot really looks like, can we stop making students of color feel like frauds?

By Theresa Vargas | Columnist | March 13, 2019 | 5:08 PM


If the FBI’s announcement this week about the college-entrance scheme could be distilled down to a single word, it is that one.

Duh. Of course, higher education in this country is not a meritocracy.

Duh. Of course, wealthy parents who pay for their kids to have the best of everything in life would also find a way to buy them the best education.

Duh. Of course, all those people who have blamed poor brown and black kids for taking the spots of “more deserving” white kids through affirmative action should have been looking closer at who really didn’t earn their seats.

For so long, people of color who have attended elite schools in this country have felt the need to prove that they deserved to be there. They have accepted that no matter their grades or SAT scores, people will look at them as affirmative action recipients and talk about them, sometimes to their faces, as tokens.


There is much more at the original, but, to condense it down — and not plagiarize through over-quoting — Miss Vargas, who described herself as a Latina from San Antonio, sometimes still feels the need to justify her “spot” at Stanford, and later Columbia, two very prestigious schools. She tells us that she had very strong Scholastic Aptitude test results and a “perfect” high school grade point average, and that if Affirmative Action “gained (her) application a longer, more considerate glance,” it didn’t earn her degrees for her.

But that’s the trouble: while Miss Vargas has what appears to have been very strong academic credentials coming out of high school, despite coming from a school in a poor and violent neighborhood, not every student given an advantage through Affirmative Action has. Average SAT scores broken down by racial or ethnic grouping reveal that Asian students have the highest composite score — which is probably why Harvard discriminates against them — at 1223, while non-Hispanic whites average 1123. Latino and black SAT takers averaged significantly lower, at 990 and 946, respectively. That Miss Vargas had top scores and would have been admitted without Affirmative Action does not mean that some ‘underrepresented minority’ students can say the same.

The University of Michigan undergraduate admissions invalidated by Gratz assigned a “‘predetermined point allocations’ that awarded 20 points towards admission to underrepresented minorities,‘” while a perfect SAT score was worth only 12 points. That was a little too blatant for the Supreme Court, but it still approved a (supposedly) more subtle form of discrimination in Grutter.


Why did Miss Vargas feel the need to justify her admissions? To put it very bluntly, because Affirmative Action helps the admission of less qualified applicants based on minority status, anyone with minority status can be viewed as having won his admission over a more qualified white or Asian applicant based on his race or ethnicity. It certainly isn’t true in every case, but it is true often enough that the stereotype has developed.

Miss Vargas wrote:

Affirmative action doesn’t give less worthy students an advantage over more worthy ones. It simply broadens the definition of worth.

That’s utterly laughable. The broadened definition of worth is meant to sweep in more ‘underrepresented minority’ students, by giving them a non-academic advantage over white and Asian students. Given that white and Asian students actually complete their degrees at much higher rates than black or Hispanic students, it would seem that what Miss Vargas sees as a broadened definition of worth does not translate into academic achievement.

At some of the most prestigious colleges, graduation rates are very high for both black and white students. Some of that is attributable to, even with Affirmative Action points aiding underrepresented minorities, the fact that the top schools get the best students, regardless of race, and some of it is attributable to those schools working harder to help individual students succeed, far more than most state universities.


Miss Vargas attended two of the schools on that list.

But it cannot be denied that, overall, admissions based on Affirmative Action have not yielded anywhere close to equal academic success records. If people are appalled that Mrs Loughlin and some of her similarly-situated compatriots tried to use a separate collegiate admissions system, then they ought to be appalled that there are separate collegiate admissions systems, period.
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