What If There Was a College-Admissions Lottery?

By Rob Goodman For most universities, prestige is measured in thin envelopes. Stanford, for instance, just made news for rejecting a record 95 percent of its applicants. Call it the era of extreme selectivity: A decade ago, only two universities turned away nine out of ten applicants; today, a dozen do. But whether historically low acceptance rates have been caused by a rise in the number of applications submitted by each student, or even by globalization, there’s still a big assumption being made: that selectivity is always in the best interests of universities. This is dangerously shortsighted. At a certain point, extreme selectivity becomes actively harmful to universities and their self-professed missions: It results in borderline dishonesty about the admissions process; it breeds anxiety in the parents of younger and younger children; and it can reward branding and hyper-specialization at the expense of learning. Admissions offices have reported that many rejected and admitted applicants are “indistinguishable.” For a substantial part of the applicant pool, officers are making essentially random decisions about who gets an acceptance letter. Promoting a narrative that the college admissions process consistently finds the very best and the very brightest, and concealing the inherent chance involved in evaluating these virtually identical candidates, is both wrong and harmful. So here’s an idea: Embrace the crapshoot. Reform the admissions process to include lotteries. Admissions officers are already making random decisions about indistinguishable candidates; why not just put those candidates into a lottery and let chance decide? Imagine that the most selective universities doubled their “acceptance rates” and entered all “accepted” applicants into a 50-50 lottery for admission. Allowing chance to play a visible role in college admissions—or more accurately, acknowledging the role it already plays—would help dilute the harms of extreme selectivity. A college lottery may seem like an impossible thought experiment. But there are consequences to universities barreling towards tens of thousands of rejection letters. In the race toward lower and lower acceptance rates, what do universities lose along the way? Read the full article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-a-college-admissions-lottery/361585/

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