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Charles Murray writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’
A lot of the apparent income effect on standardized tests is owed to parental IQ—a fact that needs addressing.

March 24, 2015 7:11 p.m. ET

… The results are always the same: The richer the parents, the higher the children’s SAT scores. This has led some to view the SAT as merely another weapon in the inequality wars, and to suggest that SAT should actually stand for “Student Affluence Test.”

It’s a bum rap. All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases.

But those correlations also mean that a lot of the apparent income effect is actually owed to parental IQ. The SAT doesn’t have IQ information on the parents. But the widely used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth contains thousands of cases with data on family income, the mother’s IQ, and her children’s performance on the math and reading tests of the Peabody Individual Achievement Test battery, which test the same skills as the math and reading tests of the SAT.

For the SAT, shifting to more than $200,000 of family income from less than $20,000 moved the average score on the combined math and reading tests to the 74th percentile from the 31st—a jump of 43 percentiles. The same income shift moved the average PIAT score to the 82nd percentile from the 30th—a jump of 52 percentiles.

Now let’s look at the income effect in the PIAT when the mother’s IQ is statistically held constant at the national average of 100. Going to a $200,000 family income from a $1,000 family income raises the score only to the 76th percentile from the 50th—an increase of 26 percentiles. More important, almost all of the effect occurs for people making less than $125,000. Going to $200,000 from $125,000 moves the PIAT score only to the 76th percentile from the 73rd—a trivial change. Beyond $200,000, PIAT scores go down as income increases.

In assessing the meaning of this, it is important to be realistic about the financial position of families making $125,000 who are also raising children. They were in the top quartile of income distribution in 2013, but they probably live in an unremarkable home in a middle-class neighborhood and send their children to public schools. And yet, given mothers with equal IQs, the child whose parents make $125,000 has only a trivial disadvantage, if any, when competing with children from families who are far more wealthy.

Why should almost all of the income effect be concentrated in the first hundred thousand dollars or so? The money itself may help, but another plausible explanation is that the parents making, say, $60,000 are likely to be regularly employed, with all the things that regular employment says about a family. The parents are likely to be conveying advantages other than IQ such as self-discipline, determination and resilience—“grit,” as this cluster of hard-to-measure qualities is starting to be called in the technical literature.

Families with an income of, say, $15,000 are much more likely to be irregularly employed or subsisting on welfare, with negative implications for that same bundle of attributes. Somewhere near $100,000 the marginal increments in grit associated with greater income taper off, and further increases in income make little difference.

Let’s throw parental education into the analysis so that we can examine the classic indictment of the SAT: the advantage a child of a well-educated and wealthy family (Sebastian, I will call him) has over the child of a modestly educated working-class family (Jane). Sebastian’s parents are part of the fabled 1%, with $400,000 in income, and his mother has a college degree. But her IQ is only average. Jane’s family has an income of just $40,000 and mom has only a high-school diploma. But mom’s IQ is 135, putting her in the top 1% of the IQ distribution.

Which child is likely to test higher? Sebastian is predicted to be at the 68th percentile on the PIAT. Jane is predicted to be at the 78th percentile. If you want high test scores, “choose” a smart but poor mother over a rich but dumb one—or over a rich and merely ungifted one.

One way of analyzing the effect of “privilege” — wealth and parental investment — on test scores and outcomes as adults would be to check how much an only child is advantaged relative to a child in a larger family.

For example, consider my wife v. myself. Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam’s new book Our Kids uses a super-simplified definition of class based solely on parents’ educational levels. By Putnam’s standards, my wife, whose mother and father both had masters degrees, would have grown up upper middle class. In contrast, my father had a junior college 2-year diploma and my mother had only a high school diploma, so I’d be lower middle class, I guess.

On the other hand, I was an only child, while my wife has three siblings. So, growing up, I never felt terribly strapped for money nor, especially, for parental time and energy, while my wife’s upbringing was more exigent.

Although you don’t hear about it much now that small families are the norm, back in my Baby Boom childhood, the privileged nature of being an only child — only children were widely said to be spoiled — was a frequent subject of conversation. This was especially true since I went to Catholic schools for 12 years, where very large families were common. For example, one friend, the class clown and best singer (his rendition of “MacNamara’s Band” in 4th grade remains a vivid memory), had eight siblings in his Irish family.

How privileged was I by being one of a family of three rather than one of a family of eleven?

My friend from the huge family has had a long, successful career as a TV sportscaster, along with some TV and movie credits as a comic actor. If you live in L.A., you’ve seen him on TV dozens of times over the last 30 years. So, growing up in a huge family didn’t ruin his life.On the other hand, if he’d been an only child with a real stage mother for a mom, I could imagine somebody with that much presence (his affect is reminiscent of that of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman or of a straight Nathan Lane) becoming a semi-famous character actor with maybe one or two Best Supporting Actor nominations.

Back during my more egalitarian childhood, people didn’t think that much about tutoring and Tiger Mothering, but, to some extent it works.

For example, I have had a pleasant life, but looking back I can see wasted opportunities. After my freshman year at Rice I came home and got a summer job at Burger King. After my sophomore year, I repaired dental equipment. Finally, after my junior year I worked as the assistant to the Chief Financial Officer of a big weedwacker manufacturing company. But what did the Burger King and repair jobs do for me other than teach me not to be a fry cook or repairman? These days I would have plotted to get internships in Silicon Valley or D.C. or Wall Street and had my parents pay my rent.

So, yes, I do think I was privileged to have the extra resources I was afforded by being an only child, even if I didn’t exploit my privileges as cunningly as I could have.

Quantifying how big a privilege that was seems challenging but doable. In fact, I’m sure somebody has done it already, and I invite commenters to link to studies.

It seems to me that measuring the effects of being an only child ought to be the first thing we do when we decide to theorize about Privilege.

By the way, however, there are other factors that may matter more in determining how Privileged you are. For example, my parents happened to turn out to be winners in the Great American Random Lottery of choosing a neighborhood to buy a home in during the 1950s — the demographics of their neighborhood have barely changed since the 1950s.

In contrast, my in-laws had the bad luck to draw what nightmarishly turned out to be one of the shortest straws in America: the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. It was almost all white until Martin Luther King came to Chicago in 1966 to demand integration. Being good liberals, my in-laws joined a pro-integration group of neighbors who all swore to not engage in white flight. But after three years and three felonies against their small children, my in-laws were pretty much financially wiped out by trying to make integration work in Austin. And thus after they finally sold out at a massive loss, they wound up living in a farmhouse without running water for the next two years.

Bizarrely, while the once-pleasant street where my wife grew up in Austin looks nowadays like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a couple of miles to the west is Superior Street in Oak Park, IL where my father grew up in the 1920s. It looks like an outdoor Frank Lloyd Wright museum today. The Wright district was saved by Oak Park’s secret, illegal, and quite effective “black-a-block” racial quota system imposed on realtors to keep Oak Park mostly white (and, these days, heavily gay).

So a not insignificant fraction of White Privilege in 2015 actually consists of whether or not the Eye of Sauron turned upon your parents’ neighborhood or not.

• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Charles Murray, College Admission, IQ, SAT 
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From Charles C. Johnson in City Journal on what we know now about the mostly hushed-up scandal at one of the Claremont Colleges, where the Admissions department fabricated statistics submitted to USNW&R and other guidebooks to keep its Top Ten liberal arts college rating:

From the start, [Claremont McKenna College or CMC] officials played down the scope of Vos’s fabrications. College president Pamela Gann said that [admissions boss Richard] Vos had manipulated only the school’s average SAT scores, and then not by much. But a day after Gann made that claim, the Claremont Port Side, a left-wing student publication, revealed a wider system of manipulation by the admissions office; in some years, some individual SAT scores were simply made up. A report released last month by O’Melveny & Myers, the college’s outside counsel, shows still more deception. Evidently, Vos didn’t merely fake SAT scores; he faked ACT scores, the percentage of students admitted from the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and the college’s overall acceptance rate. Everywhere the investigators from O’Melveny & Myers looked, they uncovered evidence of fraud and manipulation. So after just 18 hours of interviews, they stopped looking. 

It’s probably no coincidence that Vos’s manipulations began soon after the college received a $700,000 grant to expand racial preferences in its admissions. In March 2002, the admissions office changed its policies in accord with a “Campus Diversity Initiative” grant that it received from the James Irvine Foundation. The grant’s conditions called for a 2 percent yearly increase in nonwhite enrollment for three years. CMC also promised to deliver a student body that would be 37 percent nonwhite at the end of the grant’s term. The college went to great lengths to achieve these quotas, preparing “minority brochures” and flying in nonwhite students from around the country to visit. These efforts reached their apex at the same time that the college boosted its minority-outreach efforts through two new programs, QuestBridge and Posse, which continue to grant full scholarships to low-income—mostly black and Hispanic—students at top colleges across the nation. 

Vos was an enthusiastic supporter of racial preferences and a vocal critic of California’s Proposition 209, which in 1996 banned state colleges from admitting students on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex. During his tenure, CMC’s admissions policies led to higher acceptance rates for blacks and Latinos and lower ones for whites and Asians. According to the Claremont Independent in 2006, “statistics provided by the admissions office show that it admitted roughly 45 percent of both black and Hispanic applicants, [versus] 22 percent of the white applicants and 17 percent of Asian applicants.” Given this history, it’s probable that Vos’s preferential policies resulted in lower average SAT scores than he would have liked and led him to make his disastrous fabrications. 

Here’s my 2004 American Conservative article “Claremont Hate Hoax.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From the NYT:

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings. 

In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna’s president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that “a senior administrator” had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post. 

The critical reading and math scores reported to U.S. News and others “were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each,” Ms. Gann wrote. For the class that entered the school in September 2010 — the most recent set of figures made public —the combined median score of 1,400 was reported as 1,410, she said, while the 75th percentile score of 1,480 was reported as 1,510.

This doesn’t look like a lot, but note that Claremont McKenna is 9th among liberal arts colleges on the USN&WR list. In other words, it’s right on the bubble of being Top Ten or not Top Ten, which is the kind of thing that means a lot for bragging rights at extended family dinners in San Jose and Seoul. So, every little bit helps. 
Is this some unique scandal, or is it only news because the college got caught? Does USN&WR impose rigorous audits upon data submitted to them by colleges? I doubt it. 
The president of Reed, that anti-affirmative action hippie college in Portland that is becoming a rare outpost of the old, weird America, has pointed out that lots of colleges game the USN&WR system by issuing anti-SAT rhetoric, denouncing the SAT as biased, so therefore they’re going to allow students to apply without submitting SATs. This lets them let in athletes, quota kids, rich kids, and the like without it having any effect on the college’s SAT scores in USN&WR. (The magazine routinely downgrades Reed in its rankings.)
By the way, I wrote an article about Pamela B. Gann and Claremont McKenna for The American Conservative in 2004: Hate Hoax.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: College Admission 
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USN&WR lists colleges by yield ratings (number of accepted applicants who show up in the fall divided by number of applicants accepted the previous spring). Not surprisingly, Harvard is #1, but what’s #2, well ahead of #3 Stanford? Hint: A man much in the news started out at #3, graduated from #2, then earned two degrees from #1.
Many of the other highest yield colleges are red state public colleges like the #5 University of Alaska, Fairbanks (where Edward, the immortal vampire in Twilight, claims to be headed once he graduates from high school, presumably either because it’s far from everybody they know, or because it’s dark half the year so he won’t sparkle — I didn’t really get into Twilight enough to figure that out.)
A lot of famous colleges, like Duke, Rice, Cal Tech, and Northwestern, are treated by many applicants as safety schools, giving them lower yields than much less prestigious schools.

This is tied into Charles Murray’s view of changes in American culture. It used to be that almost all colleges were regional. Stanford was for smart, affluent kids from California. Mitt Romney attending Stanford for a year was part of a fairly new push by Stanford to get elite kids from “back East” (as we Californians like to vaguely handwave about everyplace from Denver to Maine).

A regional college system is more conducive to marrying your high school sweetheart. For example, when young Mitt was a freshman at Stanford in 1964, he frequently flew home on weekends to see a beautiful high school girl, Ann, to whom he’s still married.

Something like this was an underlying theme of George Lucas’s 1973 movie American Graffiti: In 1962, Richard Dreyfuss isn’t as sure as his best friend Ron Howard is that he wants to leave podunky Modesto, CA the next morning for a famous college back east. (By the way, I haven’t seen American Graffiti since I was about 16, and we’ve all undergone multiple revisions in our views of Lucas since then. Way back then, it struck me as a tremendous movie, but I was 16, so what do I know? Does it hold up?)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: College Admission 
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It’s interesting to compare college admissions in the U.S. to other countries. Here’s an NYT article on Britain:

For over half a century, academically inclined students in Britain or other countries who hoped to study at British universities spent their final two years at school studying for A-levels, widely regarded as the gold standard of British education. These single-subject tests are generally considered more rigorous than the French baccalaureate and roughly comparable to the Advanced Placement exams in the United States. 

Originally offered only in traditional academic subjects like English language and literature, mathematics, foreign languages and the sciences, in recent years the range has broadened to include media studies, health and social care, business studies, and travel and tourism. The grading ranges from A* and A down to E, and results are announced in early August.
Typically, a student will take three or four A-levels, which are administered in May and June of a student’s senior year. Since students currently submit university applications between September and January of their senior year — before they even take their A-levels — most British universities admit candidates with conditional offers, based on the A-level grades students are predicted to get by their teachers. For example, a student hoping to study medicine at Bristol, which last year admitted only 216 candidates out of over 3,100 applications, would need predicted grades of at least 2 A’s (including an A in chemistry) and one B. 

However, according to the University & Colleges Admissions Service, or UCAS, the private organization that manages university applications in Britain, A-level predictions are only accurate about 45 percent of the time. Students who fail to make their predicted grades face a last-minute scramble for university places and often end up in courses based on the availability of places rather than their own interests or aptitudes. Critics of the system also argue that teenagers from low-income homes often do not believe themselves capable of being admitted to the best universities; by the time they receive the grades that might have prompted them to aim higher, it is too late. 

Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, said at a meeting of university heads in London last week, according to news reports, that starting in 2016 students should wait to receive their actual A-level grades before applying to universities. Under one set of proposals, students would take their exams before what is now the Easter break, which would mean a five-month summer vacation. Results would be available in July, with applications due in August.

It goes on to talk about the French system as well.
In the second half of the 20th Century in the U.S., the two main pillars of the admissions process were high school grades and aptitude tests (SAT/ACT). 
Those were traditionally viewed as something of polar opposites: High school GPA was a pretty good predictor of college GPA for the same reason that a baseball pitcher’s ERA in the minors is a pretty good predictor of his ERA in the majors. GPA measured not only aptitude but also work ethic and effectualness. But, it had the problem that GPAs weren’t nationally calibrated (e.g., which high school’s grading is tougher: a 3.65 at Poly  in Pasadena or a 3.65 at Poly in Sun Valley)? 
Further, grades could be gamed in lots of ways — e.g., tutors could be hired to do projects, students could cheat off other students during final exams, parents can complain to teachers to get grades raised, and so forth.

So, the SAT was envisioned as a national test of aptitude that couldn’t be studied for.

It’s a big national news story this week that seven students at a fancy high school in Long Island were caught paying a college student $1500-$2500 to take their SATs for them, but that’s a bit of a man bites dog story. The SAT really does have better security than many GPA related activities.

Over the years, standardized achievement tests have arisen within the American system that attempt to garner the advantages of GPA with national comparability of SAT/ACT: the SAT Subject tests, which are one hour multiple choice tests on specific subjects like American History, and the Advanced Placement tests. AP tests are rather like the British A-levels. They have a lot of prima facie validity at predicting college grades because they are similar to a comprehensive final exam in a college freshman level course 
The AP tests aren’t much used at present, in part for the same reasons that the British are dissatisfied with the A-levels: they are mostly given after college admissions decisions are made and they take a long time to grade. 
About a half decade ago, the SAT was made more like the SAT Subject tests by incorporating the Subject test’s writing essay and various other changes. But, are we losing the value of the differences between the SAT aptitude test and the SAT Subject achievement tests?
My general recommendations for designing college admissions would be to be aware of the ever-intensifying efforts to game the process by Tiger Mothers of all stripes and sexes. Institutional responses could come in two forms: 
- Make some parts of the process harder to game
- Channel gaming efforts into actual learning. For example, putting more weight on the compromise measures (Subject tests and AP tests) might actually get students to, say, learn more chemistry or history as a byproduct of their frenzy to game the admissions process.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: College Admission, Testing 
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The traditional concept of college admissions was that the goal was to predict applicants’ future achievement (which could be measured in terms of first year in college grades or money donated 50 years later or whatever). The most obvious way to predict future achievement was past achievement: e.g., high school grades. Presumably, past achievement had two main components: hard work and aptitude.
But there were some obvious problems with relying solely on high school grades, such as different levels  of grade inflation at high schools. If you were getting most of your applicants from St. Paul’s and Dalton, well, you could keep in mind the differences, augmented with letters of recommendation from headmasters you had known for years. 
But once the Ivy Leagues started trying to find the most promising non-upper class kids from the rest of the country, they needed something more objective about individuals than just grades. Another issue is that high school grades have certain inherent shortcomings. The future Nobelist in physics might not care about his social studies class and thus wind up with a lower overall GPA than the well-adjusted grind. Plus, grades have a ceiling. Even an A+ in physics doesn’t really tell you that much. Moreover, lots of future successes are alienated in high school. Some people who get all As in high school might not have the upside to continue to do so in college. Incentives toward grade inflation at the high school are built in. And so forth … Top colleges kept asking for recommendation letters, but their value (and, thus, importance) dropped as they increasingly came in from random teachers in random places like Burbank, CA.
So, for various reasons like this, the Scholastic Aptitude Test was created and spread. The idea was to have an objective, national test of academic intelligence. Overall, the SAT would appear to have been a huge success. American colleges are the most fashionable and richest in the world today. 
However, there have long been complaints about the SAT. The most fashionable involved The Gap. Whites averaged higher scores than blacks. This posed a major PR problem for the academic establishment. The SAT (and ACT) is essential for their continued thriving, but saying that blacks are less intelligent than whites on average is The Worst Thing in the Whole World. But that’s what the SAT says. And the SAT is the cornerstone of academic elitism, which has made American academia globally the envy of the academic world.
Thus, over the last half century or so, there have been anguished discussions between the front men for the academic world and the psychometricians at ETS about how to Close the Gap, without throwing the baby of predictive power out with the bathwater.

One change was purely PR: the SAT doesn’t stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test anymore. It just stands for SAT these days. Under the hood, there have been a host of tweaks intended to narrow the gap without trashing the predictive powers of the SAT too much.

For example, the upper range of the Verbal (now Critical Reading) test has been capped. Before 1995, it was very, very hard to get an 800 on the Verbal test. I came fairly close the first time I took the test in 1975, so I gave it another try, got a little closer, but gave up and didn’t take it a third time because the two scores seemed quite accurate: I’m very good at verbal logic, and have a certain gift for insights that other people wouldn’t come up with, but I’m not a meticulous thinker. I make lots of mistakes. I’m more of a let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes thinker. In contrast, say, Charles Murray’s brain works like a BMW V-12: powerful and precise. Mine’s a jalopy that might surprise you and win the race or might break down on the starting line and go nowhere. So, there didn’t seem like much point in me doing a lot of test prep to try to score 800 on the verbal — I’d still make a mistake or two or they throw a really hard question at me.

But now, an 800 is well within reach of a lot of well-drilled students.

So, before scores were inflated in 1995, the SAT-V was an excellent test of high end verbal brainpower. In contrast, the SAT-M was widely recognized to need more headroom. It wasn’t uncommon at Rice in the 1970s to hear good but not great Sci-Eng majors say, “Well, sure, I got an 800, but I’m not a real 800 like Joe is.”

An obvious reform would have been to make scoring of SAT-M more like scoring of SAT-V. Instead, College Board – ETS did the opposite in 1995. One reason was that all that headroom on the Verbal modestly increased The Gap. The V test was made much easier to score 800 upon in 1995. A 730 old style became an 800 new style.

Lots of other tweaks were made, but as far as we can tell, anything that raises black average scores just encourages harder scraping of the bottom of the barrel by society, so the white-black The Gap remains remarkably stable over the generations. For example, The Gap on SAT-Critical Reading dropped about a half decade ago, perhaps because of the changes on the test, such as deep-sixing analogies. But that apparently just encouraged the College Board to troll for more black test-takers with free tests, so The Gap is now even bigger. (I may be overinterpreting a few squiggles on the trend graph.)
But white parents still tend to assume that SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. It’s not an achievement test in their heads. The College Board says there is no point in studying extra hard for the SAT, and why would a prestigious not-for-profit institution spin the truth? If you can’t trust the College Board, who can you trust? And signing your child up for intensive test prepping would be unfair to poor blacks who can’t afford all that tutoring and drilling. Plus, prepping for years would be a lot of work for little Taylor, so just let him have his fun.
Meanwhile, lots of people from Fujian are showing up in America whose merchant ancestors ascended to mandarin status by spending their mercantile profits at Confucian literature cram schools for their sons. The assumptions about the SAT flitting around in white people’s heads would never occur to them. “Test prep is unfair to poor blacks? Huh? You crack me up! I like you! You are very funny!”
Not surprisingly, we see vast amounts of white upper middle class rage directed at Amy Chua. 
Now, is devoting hundreds of hours to prepping for the SAT a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? Well, let me try to reframe that question more productively and think about SAT test prep’s opportunity cost.
It could be that SAT test prep has long term benefits other than getting into a fancier college. Could be … I dunno. I haven’t seen any evidence one way or another. But, it seems more like a zero sum game. SAT test prep seems kind of a sterile form of studying compared to studying an actual subject like Physics or French or Music Theory or World History or Microeconomics.

The return on investment for the colossal number of hours devoted in recent decades to SAT cram schooling is modest. The test is designed t
o be hard to prep for, so it’s taken gigantic efforts for gains measured in fractions of a standard deviation. 

It seems to me that it would be better for everybody if more test prepping energy was invested instead into positive sum games, such as studying for achievement tests rather than for aptitude tests. Fortunately, we currently have a quite good set of national achievement tests: the College Board’s Advanced Placement tests. They are not subject to the incentives for high schools to inflate their grades: the AP tests provide objective national grades that do a good job of predicting what the high school student would score on a 101-102 level course as a freshman in college.

In contrast, AP tests are intended to be ones you can study for, so the ROI on test prep effort tends to be quite a bit higher than on the SAT. Far more students are passing AP tests than a decade ago, and that’s a good thing. Why have young people waste their time studying for something that’s built to be hard to study for when they can instead study subjects that are intrinsically worth studying?

Unfortunately, the current college admissions system gives little weight to AP test scores. Instead, perversely, it gives too much weight to taking AP classes in high school, even if you then do bad on the AP test. The University of California, for example, in calculating high school GPA adds a full point to classes designated Advanced Placement. Thus the average high school GPA of UC Berkeley freshmen is a wacky 4.39. An internal study by UC showed that cutting the bonus for an AP course down to 0.5 would better predict freshmen grades. I don’t believe the UC system counts AP test scores  in the admission’s process, or doesn’t count them much.

As Mitch has pointed out, this system is doubly rigged in favor of the more goody-two-shoes high school students. Typically, you need high grades in earlier classes to get into high school AP classes, where you are then given a full extra point for your GPA — even if your AP score shows you didn’t actually learn much.

So, the ideal system would be for college admissions to be retooled from mostly a two legged stool of grades and SAT scores to a three legged stool of grades, AP Test scores, and SAT scores. The SAT could then be redesigned to be more purely an aptitude test that would be less easy to game. Moreover, test takers would have less incentive to devote hundreds of hours to gaming the SAT because they were being encouraged to spend hundreds of hours mastering AP Chemistry or AP European History. 
The AP tests should be reformed to make them better for college admissions. They are currently scored on a 1 to 5 scale with a 5 equating to an A in the average college’s freshman year introductory course in that subject, a 4 equal to a B, and so forth. A weird aspect of this is that all 5s are not created equal. For example, to get a 5 on the AP Chemistry test, you have to get a little over 60% right. So, people getting 98% right don’t get a higher score than people getting 68% right. Test scoring should be kept the same at the lower levels — a 3 would still be a C — but the maximum score extended from 5 out to 7, which would be like an A at Caltech. Meanwhile, the GPA boost from taking an AP course would be eliminated, at least before senior year.

The initial winners from this changeover would, of course, tend to be Asians, who currently take a lot of AP tests. But good for them. Whites in heavily Asian areas, who have already started to adapt to the Asian challenge, would do okay. Whites in flyover regions would be challenged to get on the ball with AP. My guess is that it would be good for them and that they would eventually respond well to the challenge.

Overall, my plan looks like it would be better overall for society. There’s a huge amount of energy out there looking to get an advantage in the college admissions process, so why not direct it in some positive sum direction?

Yes, sure, obviously it’s a win-win, but, does it solve America’s most overwhelming problem: Closing The Gap? Will blacks come closer to whites in scores under my system?

I dunno. I haven’t thought about it. In fact, not worrying about Closing The Gap has allowed me to put forward a novel reform suggestion that might be better overall, which is not something you see too often these days.

In America today, 98% of the thinking devoted to college admissions goes to figuring out how your own kid can claw his way to the top, and the other 2% goes to airy handwaving theorizing about Closing The Gap. That leaves 0% devoted to thinking about improving the system overall.

Now, if I were truly, fanatically public-spirited, I would devote a lot of energy to dreaming up some bogus but persuasive-sounding theory about how my reform would Close The Gap, which would make it a lot more likely to be adapted. But, I’m not saintly enough to make up an elaborate lie.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Steve Hsu points to an article from Chronicle of Higher Education on how college admissions departments are, like baseball teams in the 1990s and basketball teams in the 2000s, increasingly hiring quants to statistically manage the admissions process. 

Those Tweedy Old Admissions Deans? They’re All Business Now 

A profession that once relied on anecdotes and descriptive data now runs on complex statistical analyses and market research. Knowing how to decipher enrollment outcomes is a given; knowing how to forecast the future is a must. Which students are most likely to apply, submit deposits, and matriculate? At what cost to the college? How likely will they be to graduate? Such questions echo in the modern enrollment office, which is often supported by one or more institutional researchers, as well as consulting firms that sell recruitment strategies in various flavors. 

Search the job listings for top-level admissions and enrollment openings, and you will find that many colleges seek a “data-driven” leader, someone who will develop “data-informed” strategies. This past winter, for instance, Pomona College, in California, began a national search to replace Bruce J. Poch, who had stepped down after 23 years as vice president and dean of admissions. Among the qualifications listed in the job advertisement: “an ability to analyze and use data to guide decision-making and measure results.” 

David W. Oxtoby, Pomona’s president, led the college’s search committee. The modern admissions dean, he says, must have a “technical, quantitative facility,” the ability to delve into the relationship between a student’s SAT score and her subsequent performance in college, or why some kinds of students are more likely to enroll than others. Moreover, Pomona had decided to merge its admissions and financial-aid offices (a change many colleges have made already). So the new dean would need to speak the language of costs.

Poch was the one admissions professional I’ve met who really impressed me. The lower levels of the business are full of nice young ladies (a large fraction middle class black) and nice young gay guys who couldn’t get better jobs, but Poch definitely seemed like The Brains Behind the Operation. 
And clearly there are some brains somewhere, because American prestige education has been one of the big success stories of the last generation, at least at maintaining and enhancing its prestige. Granted, this is awfully easy to do in a business driven by brand names where the older the brand name the better, but only a handful of colleges in recent decades have screwed up so badly that they’ve fallen notably in prestige.
Digression Alert: I also once spoke on the phone to Poch’s boss, David Oxtoby, now the president of Pomona college. Around 1990 in Chicago, I lived in a six-flat that had “The Oxtoby, 1923″ carved over the front door. One day I started wondering who or what an Oxtoby was. So, I looked in the Chicago phone book (remember phone books?) and there was only one Oxtoby in Chicago: David Oxtoby, Hyde Park. So, I called the number and a man with superb diction, like a college president’s speaking voice, answered. I asked him if his family had built The Oxtoby. He said no, but he kindly gave me a full, scholarly etymology of the name Oxtoby (it means oxen-go-by, kind of like “Oxford” is where the oxen forded the river). 
I never asked Mr. Oxtoby what he did, but I wasn’t surprised to read in the newspaper years later that this Hyde Park resident with distinguished diction had been appointed president of a famous liberal arts college.
Being a college president is a tough job. Basically, you need to be Angelo Mozilo on the inside, a pushy Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross-style salesman always always asking for a donation. On the outside, though, you need to come across like Mr. Chips, an unworldly scholar who makes guys who’ve made a pile of money in real estate or metal bending (and their wives) feel classy by associating with you and giving you money. Elegant diction helps.

Pomona interviewed a dozen candidates before hiring Seth Allen, dean of admission and financial aid at Grinnell College, in Iowa. Soon to occupy one of the premier jobs in admissions, Mr. Allen, 43, represents the next generation of enrollment chiefs. They’ve ascended during an era of high competition, learning how to market their colleges and massage the metrics that define success in admissions. 

Although idealism may inform their work, they are clear-eyed realists. They are not introverts, for they must collaborate constantly with faculty members and other campus offices. They are diplomats who must manage competing desires: those of administrators who want to enroll more first-generation and low-income applicants, professors who want more students with high SAT scores, trustees who want to lower the tuition-discount rate. “Twenty years ago,” Mr. Allen says, “there were not as many wants.” 

Drawn to statistics at an early age, Mr. Allen earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at the Johns Hopkins University in 1990. He first worked as an admissions counselor for his alma mater, a cutting-edge laboratory in the then-burgeoning science of enrollment management. Mr. Allen learned how predictive modeling could project net tuition revenue, how many biology majors would enroll, and a hundred other outcomes. 

Later Mr. Allen became the university’s director of enrollment planning, research, and technology, a title that captured the profession’s increasing sophistication. While most colleges were still operating in a pen-and-paper world, he helped create the university’s first online admissions application. 

In the 1990s, selective institutions intensified their recruitment of prospective students, and Dickinson College was no exception. As dean of admissions at the Pennsylvania college, Mr. Allen oversaw a surge in applications that enabled it to become increasingly selective. Average SAT scores rose, as did enrollments of minority students.

Dickinson did two smart things. One, it made submitting SAT/ACT scores optional but reported to USN&WR the scores not of all freshmen but just those who felt like submitting their scores. So, it could let in more rich dumb kids and the like without taking a hit in the USNW&R rankings. Also, Dickinson appears to have a policy that any time a reporter, especially one from the New York Times, needs a quote about college admissions, a high-ranking Dickinson official will supply one at any hour of the day or night.
What’s not mentioned in this rather starry-eyed article is that holy grail of admission moneyballers: alumni donations. Which type of applicant is most likely to donate the most to his alma mater? As far as I can tell, the big givers tend to be whites and males and legacies and jocks — i.e., basically, the same kind of people they were most likely to admit back in the Bad Old Days. Ironies abound.

Moneyball turned out not to be a very big deal in baseball. A few underdogs did a little better for awhile, but ultimately the Yankees wound up back on top. I doubt if better statistical analyses of college applicants will change much in the visible world. When all the dust settles, Harvard will still be on top. But it would be very interesting to read those confidential analyses.

Have any college admissions moneyball stats ever been released to the public?

I like baseball statistics a lot, but the amount of public brainpower devoted to analyzing baseball statistics in contrast to real world statistics is striking. Brad Pitt is starring in Moneyball this year, but I’ve never even seen an economic professor’s paper on the topic of what kind of college applicants give the best financial return to the college. These analyses exist, and I bet ambitious parents in Seoul are reading some of them translated into Korean right now, but Americans don’t seem very interested in the topic.

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According to “Mixed-Race Students Wonder How Many Boxes to Check” in the NYT, the endless demands from college admissions offices for essays from applicants Just what cynics figured. First, some throatclearing:

And yet these days, white students are now only 43 percent of the student body at Rice [University in Houston], where an applicant’s racial identification can become an admissions game changer. This can be especially true during the “committee round” in early spring, when only a few dozen slots might remain for a freshman class expected to number about 1,000. 

At that stage, a core group of five to seven bleary-eyed admissions officers will convene for debate around a rectangular laminate table strewn with coffee cups and half-eaten doughnuts as the applications of those students still under consideration are projected onto a 60-inch plasma TV screen. 

For most of the nearly 14,000 who applied this year, the final decision — admit or deny — was a relatively straightforward one resolved early on, based on the admissions officers’ sampling of factors like test scores, grades, extracurricular activities and recommendations. 

But there are several thousand applicants whose fate might still be in limbo by the committee round because their qualifications can seem fairly indistinguishable from one another. This is when an applicant’s race — or races — might tip the balance.

Oh, come on, this is the oldest myth in the college affirmative action book: that quotas only “tip the balance” when applicants “seem fairly indistinguishable.” The white-black SAT gap at Rice back during the 400-1600 scoring days was 271 points, according to The Bell Curve. That was the biggest gap found out of a couple of dozen college. Of course, as the Rice president irritatedly pointed out to me when I called Rice’s distinction to his attention at an alumni fundraiser, Rice is the smallest school to play Div. I football, so the proportion of football players’ SAT scores counted under the black total is larger at Rice than elsewhere. But, still …
One reason colleges can pull the wool over the public’s eyes on this is that very few people think in systems terms about how this works. It’s hard to think about the effect of more than one college doing this at a time. If Rice was the only college in the country to have a quota, then, sure, it could fill its quota with black applicants who are “fairly indistinguishable” from the white norm. 
But, funny thing is, Harvard also has a quota, so all those black applicants are going to Harvard instead of Rice. And the black students who are just below the Harvard-bound are going to Stanford and MIT on quotas instead of Rice. So, Rice takes the blacks who would be going to Texas A&M if nobody had a quota, and Texas A&M takes …
The whole system winds up pretty accurately reproducing at each college the one standard deviation gap seen in the whole population. But that’s really hard for most people to grasp.

So, what are the essays for?

“From an academic standpoint, the qualifying records, the test scores, how many AP courses, they may all look alike,” said Chris Muñoz, vice president for enrollment at Rice since 2006. “That’s when we might go and say, ‘This kid has a Spanish surname. Let’s see what he wrote about.’ Right or wrong, it can make a difference.” … 

Still, Rice knows that however much it emphasizes that students should be guided by the honor principle in making such calls, some will seek to stretch the new definitions to their own gain. 

“There are players out there,” said Julie Browning, the longtime dean of undergraduate admission at Rice. 

Mindful of that, Rice admissions officials try to reconcile whatever boxes an applicant may have checked with the rest of the application. 

For example, in its customized supplement to the Common Application, Rice asks an essay question about “the unique life experiences and cultural traditions” that a student might bring.
“If they care about their cultural heritage, it comes through,” Ms. Browning said. “If they’re lukewarm about it, and they’re trying to make it something they care about, it comes through.”

Of course, many of these application essays are written by professional essay writers or the like, so I guess it all evens out in the long run. 
Anyway, the message from Rice U. is: If you’ve got it, play the Race Card. Over and over again. Be as authentically nonwhite as you can. (We can tell!) You’ve got to feel deep down that you deserve this quota spot. So, don’t forget to mention how special your Quinceanera made you feel, especially if you are a boy.

One commenter once noted that Dreams from My Father sounds like the President’s monstrously enlarged Diversity Essay. 

Unfortunately, the Times’ article seems pretty confused about the concept (or concepts) of “multiracial”:

And yet, at Rice, the chances that a multiracial applicant might be admitted have climbed over the last five years to 23 percent this year. (By contrast, the admission rate for the freshman class as a whole this year was about 19 percent.) 

Adding to the confusion in admissions offices is that there is no standard definition, in higher education or elsewhere, of what it means to be mixed race. But the hundreds of colleges, including Rice, that accept the Common Application have allowed students to mark more than one box for several years now. 

Over the last five years, the number of applicants to Rice who characterize themselves as of more than one race has skyrocketed to 564 from 8. Multiracial students now account for about 6 percent of the freshman class at Rice, nearly as many as those who identify themselves as “black or African-American.” (Nationally, about 3 percent of Americans identify themselves as mixed-race.)

The reporters’ notion that colleges treat “multiracial” as one entity seems highly naive and provincial. I can’t imagine any California college treats applicants who check 1. Black and 2. White (You’re like, omigod, Obama!) the same as applicants who check 1. Asian and 2. White (Yeah, so what else is new?)

I know from personal experience of a highly marginal case that they’re going to treat applicants who assert any black ancestry as BLACK. The black legislators in Sacramento don’t ask Berkeley for pictures of the students, they just want to know the numbers. 

I am extremely doubtful of the NYT’s interpretation in this passage:

Mr. Muñoz, who is ultimately responsible for Rice’s effort to promote diversity on campus, says he has been guided by the template of his own mixed-race family. He is Mexican-American, the first in his family to go to college, while his wife is of Irish descent. They have three grown children. 

“I am honoring, best I can
, how the students see themselves,” Mr. Muñoz said. “If they say they’re mixed, I’m not going to say, ‘Oh no, you’re black.’ I’m going to say, ‘You’re mixed.’ Isn’t that O.K.?” 

And, he added, “We’re not out to play ‘gotcha.’ In all things there is an element of trust.”
Still, he acknowledges, such questions give applicants (and their families) wide latitude. 

An applicant’s final determination of what to say about race is often made in consultation with a college counselor. Many counselors will convey to families that a multiracial applicant — like one who is black and Chinese — often has a better chance of being admitted to a highly selective college than those in any other racial or ethnic category.

Maybe in the case of an extreme exotic like a black-Chinese mix, a multiracial would be more desirable to admissions offices than just plain black, but the whole tenor of this article — that admissions offices treat “multiracial” as a group — is doubtful. For getting into college, black is best, and the one drop rule applies to who gets called black, so anybody who credibly claims to be part black will be treated as black for quota / bragging rights purposes. 
I know a young man who is not noticeably black, unless you are looking for it, who wasn’t going to put down on his Berkeley application that he was black because he was having an argument with his New Orleans Creole of Color light-skinned father and identified more at the moment with his Armenian mother. He finally did, and then not only he got into Berkeley with below average test scores, but he got a huge scholarship from the African-American Alumni Association. 
The more interesting questions are part Hispanics and part Asians. 
The federal government has never created a mixed-ethnicity category for people who are part Hispanic. In fact, in the 2010 Census, the feds abolished the concept of ethnicity in general, and didn’t bother to provide any conceptual justification for demanding to know if you are Hispanic or Not Hispanic. You just had to tell them because they have more guns than you have.
So, Mr. Munoz should have been asked what he’s going to put down on his half-Mexican kids’ college applications.
By the way, here’s a picture  of the President of Mexico with Mexican students at Stanford. Nobody looks like that guy in Machete.
The most interesting question to NYT subscribers is probably what to do if you are part Asian. That gets into the whole question that the NYT hasn’t much dealt with: do colleges discriminate against Asians, and if they do why?
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From the L.A. Times:

College, too easy for its own good 

Colleges have abandoned responsibility for shaping students’ academic development and instead have come to embrace a service model that caters to satisfying students’ expressed desires. 

By Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa 

As this year’s crop of college graduates leaves school, burdened with high levels of debt and entering a severely depressed job market, they may be asking themselves a fundamental question: Was college worth it? … 

We recently tracked several thousand students as they moved through and graduated from a diverse set of more than two dozen colleges and universities, and we found consistent evidence that many students were not being appropriately challenged. In a typical semester, 50% of students did not take a single course requiring more than 20 pages of writing [i.e., no more than two ten-page papers], 32% did not have any classes that required reading more than 40 pages per week, and 36% reported studying alone five or fewer hours per week. 

Not surprisingly, given such a widespread lack of academic rigor, about a third of students failed to demonstrate significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing ability (as measured by the Collegiate Learning Assessment) during their four years of college. 

The interesting analysis would be whether most of the students who aren’t getting better at analyzing information are ones whose SAT / ACT test scores would predict that they have about topped out intellectually, or whether they are often just lazy students who would be getting better if they applied themselves.

… Indeed, the students in our study who reported studying alone five or fewer hours per week nevertheless had an average cumulative GPA of 3.16. 

… These trends have all added up to less rigor. California labor economists Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks, for example, have documented that full-time college students’ time spent studying dropped in half between 1960 and today. 

My experience at Rice in the 1970s was that, by today’s standards, there really wasn’t all that much to do other than to study. Almost nobody had a television in their dorm room, the only video game was Pong, and computers were programmed with punch cards, so they were no fun. Not all that many students had cars, either. (On the other hand, their were two bars on campus, a beer cost 35 cents, the legal drinking age was 18, and nobody carded freshmen to see if they were 18.) But researching a paper in the library was a total drag compared to looking stuff up on the Internet, so I’m not sure how productive all those hours of study were.

In contrast, I watched lots of TV in high school. Maybe we’re turning into a Japanese system where you work hard in high school to get into a fancy college, where you take it easy.

Rice back then was hard in science and engineering. It wasn’t particularly hard in other majors. In contrast, Stanford was notoriously easy back then, which is why Silicon Valley collapsed. Oh, wait, that didn’t happen … 

Moreover, from 1970 to 2000, as colleges increasingly hired additional staff to attend to student social and personal needs, the percentage of professional employees in higher education who were faculty decreased from about two-thirds to around one-half. At the same time, through their professional advancement and tenure policies, schools encouraged faculty to focus more on research rather than teaching. When teaching was considered as part of the equation, student course assessments tended to be the method used to evaluate teaching, which tends to incentivize lenient grading and entertaining forms of instruction.

It’s fun to look up student ratings of celebrity professors. For example, Harvard students express their disdain for Alan Dershowitz with impressive vocabularies: e.g., “repugnant.” But, mostly it’s pretty depressing reading what students have to say about their classes. The reviews of films submitted for free on Internet Movie Database are a lot more intelligent on average than college class reviews.

So how should this academic drift of our colleges and universities be addressed? Some have proposed introducing a federal accountability system. We are against such a move, as federal regulation would probably be counterproductive and include a large set of detrimental, unintended consequences. 

Accountability in higher education rightly resides at lower levels of the system. College trustees have at the institutional level the fiduciary responsibility to begin holding administrators accountable by asking: How are student learning outcomes and program quality being measured, and what is being done to address areas of concern that have been identified?  … 

In general, our society doesn’t seem to really want to know how much value colleges are adding.

Richard Arum, a professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, are the authors of “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.”

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Here’s an amusing NYT article about how Chinese-American firms that mold applications to fancy colleges for hefty fees are expanding into the Mainland China market, where they write essays and create Potemkin extracurricular activities

LuShuang Xu provides an example of that approach. Ms. Xu, who was born and raised in China before emigrating to suburban California at age 9, had high hopes that she would be the first in her family to go to college. But poor results on a practice SAT and a dearth of extracurricular activities convinced Ms. Xu, 17, that she needed a scholastic makeover if she were to make it into a school her parents could brag about to relatives. 

ThinkTank sent her to a public speaking camp, helped her improve her college essay and gave her the e-mail addresses of all the members of the Stanford University history department. At the company’s prompting, she found two internships with department professors. She also enrolled in ThinkTank’s college prep courses, which helped improve her SAT score 410 points to 2160 out of 2400. Next autumn, she will start at Harvard University. 

ThinkTank’s success with students in California’s Asian-American community, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s American clients, has drawn interest from wealthy parents in China. Mr. Ma opened an office in Shenzhen in 2009 and another in Beijing last year. 

The company entered China at a time when the college consulting industry on the mainland was booming, with numerous agencies promising to make Chinese student’s academic dreams come true, often through questionable practices. 

One company, Best Education, has offices across China and charges clients an average of 500,000 renminbi for writing clients’ essays, training them for the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and providing career guidance. 

“The students just supply their information and we do all the work,” said one representative, who requested anonymity to protect his job. Best Education offers a 50 percent refund if an applicant is rejected by the student’s chosen schools. … 

Reached by telephone, an agency representative said the company did a lot more than just polish résumés. “If a client’s English is poor, our trained professionals can write the essay to make sure it looks perfect,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from her employer. 

Helping students from China clear the college entry hurdles has presented ThinkTank with a fresh set of challenges. Often they have poor English language skills and have done little with their free time beyond homework. Yet their parents often demand the Ivy League. 

“We really have to hold their hand and do everything along with them,” Mr. Ma said, including deliberately leaving spelling mistakes on college essays so they look authentic, training them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language and building extracurricular activities from the ground up. 

ThinkTank has founded Model United Nations groups, built a Web site for a Shanghai student’s photography project to get news media coverage and helped another obtain funding to build a hydroelectric generator. 

This raises the more general question of why anybody, Chinese or non-Chinese, cares so much about getting into a famous American college? Obviously, some of it is sheer social climbing — bragging to relatives, etc. 
Yet, there is a rational piece of the puzzle, which is that many elite employers, such as Goldman Sachs, discriminate extravagantly based on college attended (see Steve Hsu here and here). Many super-lucrative Wall Street firms won’t bother recruiting at non-Ivy League campuses, and some even feel Columbia is a little downscale for them. 
Why? Well, there are various obvious reasons of convenience, but another is sheer self-interest. If you graduated from Harvard, keeping it much easier for Harvard students to get hired by your company than equally gifted graduates of lesser-known colleges burnishes the name Harvard, which is on your resume. Plus, your kids will have some legacy pull when they apply to Harvard so why give outsiders an even break?
In other words, there is a pervasive pattern of hiring bias perpetuated by an old boy’s network. When discrimination involves race or sex, government and media go on red alert. But when it involves colleges, well, who cares?
Now, one thing we could do to reduce college admissions mania is make Wall Street a little less lucrative. But, that seems beyond imagining. So, let’s think about a direct approach.
The normal solution for discrimination is quotas, explicit or covert. So, why not quotas for, say, Goldman Sachs? GS is not only vastly wealthy, but has been hugely helped out in recent years by the taxpayers (e.g., the AIG bailout, which saved Goldman $13 billion). So, Goldman should publicly commit to doubling the percentage of new recruits it hires each year from public universities.

I’m not sure that this is a great idea, but what’s interesting is that it’s a rather novel idea. 

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David Leonhardt writes in the NYT about how wonderful it is that Amherst, a super small  liberal arts college, has increased its share of Pell Grant winners (bottom half of income distribution) from 13% to 22%. 

Mr. Marx says Amherst does put a thumb on the scale to give poor students more credit for a given SAT score. Not everyone will love that policy. “Spots at these places are precious,” he notes. But I find it tough to argue that a 1,300 score for most graduates of Phillips Exeter Academy — or most children of Amherst alumni — is as impressive as a 1,250 for someone from McDowell County, W.Va., or the South Bronx.

My impression is that the thumb on the scale to get students from the South Bronx and to a somewhat lesser extent from a coal mining district of West Virginia is bigger normally than 50 points. A 1300 isn’t likely to get you into Amherst. The reality is that there are very very few South Bronx kids with what it takes to be competitive at Amherst, so schools like Amherst get into bidding wars with each other over them already. The more Amherst tries to drive up its share of Pell Grant winners from the South Bronx, the more Swarthmore’s goes does.

About a decade ago, the press got worked up over how Caltech had only zero or one black student in its freshman class. “Look how many blacks MIT has!” It never occurred to the pundits that if Caltech were harangued into getting more black students, they’d just wind up spending a fortune to take some away from MIT. Nobody ever gets that. The assumption is that Caltech should merely create more Caltech-type black high school seniors.

In contrast, I think the most underexploited center of potential talent are kids from broken families, especially boys, who don’t have two parents to prod them to jump through all the hoops that the multi-year college admissions brownie-point collecting process requires. 

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Mickey Kaus writes at the Daily Caller:

But when you think about it, a non-college world in which high school graduates acquired the skills they wanted on the web or in ad hoc classes and proved their worth by performing well in actual jobs might be a preferable form of meritocracy. a) There would be no “signaling” of status for life, the way an Ivy League degree now signals status for life. The elite wouldn’t necessarily be getting Ivy League degrees; b) post-high school life would become a mad scramble for skills in which luck would inevitably play a greater role. That’s a good thing if it prevents people from concluding that richer = better. More than ever, richer might just = luckier; c)  A skill-by-skill scramble would value a multiplicity of discrete talents–are you a good computer programmer? a painter? a musician? writer?–instead of one general talent (“smarts”). You wouldn’t need to be well-rounded to join the elite. You’d just have to be good at something. It’s harder to insinuate that a programmer is better than a musician or writer the way it’s currently possible to  insinuate that a high-SAT Yale grad is better than someone whose scores could only get him into a state school. …

This is an interesting point: that the kind of “holistic” college admissions that the Supreme Court endorsed in its 2003 pro-affirmative action ruling in Grutter claims to evaluate everybody in some overall “holistic” sense that, in effect, says some people are better overall than other people. The purpose of the Supreme Courts’ call for holistic admissions was to fuzz up the margin so nobody could be certain than affirmative action was being practiced. But holistic admissions, by their stated goal of analyzing all aspects of the applicants, suggest that people can be ranked holistically (i.e. overall).
In contrast, consider Caltech, which doesn’t do much affirmative action and doesn’t really care that much about qualifications outside of test scores, grades, and evidence of extreme science or engineering talent / desire. I went to high school with one kid who got into Caltech and my younger son went to school with one kid who got into Caltech. Both of these Caltech-bound kids were extremely Aspergery to the point of autism. The reaction of other kids to these guys getting into Caltech was: “Hey, that’s cool! You must have really high test scores! (I’m still glad I’m not you.”) 
On the other hand, Harvard trumpets that it has holistic admissions, and most students take away the implied lesson that those who get into Harvard are just overall better than you are. 
Middle-aged Syracuse grad Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for The Social Network was supposed to be about what a flawed individual Harvard’s Mark Zuckerberg is, but every high school student I talked to about the movie was of the opinion that they wished they were as awesome as Mark Zuckerberg.

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A reader sends in the following strategies for getting into fancy colleges:

My advice to all high school kids is the following: 

1. Don’t take too many honors classes. Just get good grades. Honors classes don’t make you stand out that much. Getting an A in a standard class is better than a B in honors level or AP. If you’re smart and want to learn extra, go for it. If you take a regular class, you’ll have plenty of time for this either in class where you won’t have to pay attention or at home because the homework is easier. You don’t get all the extra garbage projects the teachers give you. You can also use the extra time to boost your SAT. GPA+SAT is what really matters.

University of California gives a full 1.0 higher GPA for “Advanced Placement” courses, even though a study says that 0.5 would better predict freshman GPA. I’d like to see Advanced Placement test scores weighed more heavily in college admissions, but there is a lot of resistance to that.

2. Find the majors in your university of choice that have a low enrollment or needs your demographic. Then figure out what the university policy is for changing majors or schools within the University. My school had a college of Arts and Sciences. So you can apply as say a German major and then switch to Biology if you want to. It’s easy. If you’re a guy, apply to the school of nursing if the school has one. If you’re a girl, engineering might do the trick at some schools.

But make sure you can transfer. One hint is if it says “School of …” they might not let you transfer from the School of Nursing to the School of Engineering.

3. Be a competent athlete. This is obviously easier said than done but many top level schools (Northwestern, Michigan, all the Ivies, Duke, etc.) just need warm bodies to fill out a team that won’t fail out, get arrested, get into fights, or develop a drug problem. We had lots of guys on our team that would have been 3rd string on their J.V. team in high school but being an athlete was the bump that got them into an Ivy. Coaches at these schools often don’t mind if you’re not a great athlete if they think you will be successful in your professional life after graduation. You’re a potential donor ($) to the program for life.

In Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, the Dupont University basketball team has three “swimmies” (tall white guys who aren’t terribly good at basketball but have lots of endurance for practice, and who are genuine students) to fill the 13th-15th spots on the roster and boost team GPA. Is that common?
When I was a freshman at Rice, I played in a pickup basketball game in which my team of five non-athletes beat a team of four Division I basketball players 20-16. My big contribution to the upset was calling out, when we non-jocks jumped out to a 16-4 lead on a streak of hot-shooting, “Game at 20!” Not surprisingly, we soon regressed toward the mean, and barely hung on to win 20-16. 
Granted, the Rice basketball team was pretty awful. That Christmas I went to Pauley Pavilion see them play a UCLA team that had four NBA first round draft picks on it. UCLA beat Rice 107-60 and it wasn’t that close. The highlight was when Rice’s center got the ball down low and tried to lean in on UCLA’s David Greenwood, who simply took a step back and let the Rice big man fall down untouched. 
But still …

4. Go meet the coaches. Go to a summer camp or just call them up and drop by the school and try to meet them. At the top schools, the coaches simply don’t have time to scan the whole country looking for athletes that approach the minimum test scores or grades required for admission. They are thrilled if you find them. A ten minute meeting with a coach is all it takes sometimes. Just don’t be pushy. Pushy parents are a huge problem that coaches don’t want to deal with unless you’re kid is an amazing athlete (in which case you wouldn’t really need an admissions strategy). 

This strategy is low cost and fairly easy to do. It’s even easier with women since Title 9 worships women athletes. This strategy is great for the minor sports. If you’re trying to play basketball at Duke, you’re out of luck. Wrestling, squash, tennis, track, swimming, soccer, and rowing (at some schools) are prime targets. Even football at the Ivies has some opportunities. Being president of the Spanish club or yearbook editor does nothing for you. Sports can be a great meal ticket. And the alumni benefits are tremendous as you have 10-50 instant connections depending on the size of your team. There are often opportunities for extra money with summer jobs through alumni as well. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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From AOL News:

It looks like the iron-fisted tiger mother’s hard work paid off: Her 18-year-old daughter has been accepted at Harvard.

In contrast, deer dad Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U., didn’t want to reveal where his son wound up after getting turned down by a lot of private colleges, so he just modestly called it Big State University. (It’s easy to deduce from details in the book, however, that his BSU is one of the more prestigious of all public universities, but I won’t violate the kid’s privacy by naming it. Please don’t bother posting guesses in the comments.)

Allow me to reiterate that it’s basically nuts to publish a memoir in which your currently teenage children are major characters. Ferguson’s version of his two kids is much less revealing than Chua’s, but, still, don’t do it.

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From my new column:

Andrew Ferguson’s witty and wistful new memoir, Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College, stands in obvious contrast to Amy Chua’s bumptious bestseller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Between them, the two books nicely illustrate the stately but steady decline of the white upper middle class, of which Ferguson is a sterling representative, in the face of Asian competition for the commanding heights of American society.

Ferguson’s book could be called Wry Observations of the Deer Dad. The gentle satirist comes across as the anti-Chua as he describes what he learned from his family’s 18-month struggle with college admissions mania. The fair-minded Ferguson seems observant, skittish, respectful of his son’s individuality and preferences, slightly passive, and, in the multi-generational long run, dead meat for the tigers of this world. 

Crazy U. is not really a how-to guide. Instead, the questions that interest Ferguson most have less to do with helping his son get ahead than with the Big Picture issues of why getting into college has become so frenzied and whether these changes are good for society. 

Chua, on the other hand, just wants her progeny to win.

Read the whole thing there.
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In my new VDARE column, I return to the subject of pregnant foreign tourists holing up in America to acquire birthright citizenship for their babies.

Unfortunately, the New York Times’ reporter Jennifer Medina couldn’t get much of a grasp on why foreigners would go to all this expense and trouble. It seems to her, to have something to do with passports:

“Immigration experts say they can only guess why well-to-do Chinese women are so eager to get United States passports for their babies, but they suspect it is largely as a kind of insurance policy should they need to move.”

… To help the NYT’s puzzlement in case it should ever want to return to this subject, let’s find out what the Chinese themselves say are the reasons. An enterprising reader of mine went to the trouble of looking up a Chinese birth tourism website—the extremely pink Chinese Baby Care. He then had Google Translate render the Chinese characters into approximate English.

And figuring out the motives behind birth tourism is well worth doing. It’s a hugely significant phenomenon—because it makes explicit a topic that is almost never discussed in the American media, but is feverishly analyzed abroad: the scarcity value of the right to live in America.

Read the whole thing there.

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The back of the book section of the Atlantic Monthly is dominated by a group of writers — Benjamin and Christina Schwarz, Caitlin Flanagan, and Sandra Tsing-Loh — who have lived or worked in the San Fernando Valley, and whose worldviews mutually reflect and reinforce their Valley experience. Thus, I find them more perceptive about current trends in America than the vastly more numerous Boston-NY-DC intellectuals. (Here, for example, is Benjamin Schwarz’s lovely review of historian Kevin Starr’s Golden Dreams: California in the Age of Abundance: 1950-1963.)  
Not surprisingly, the three ladies all have to have their say on Amy Chua.

Sympathy for the Tiger Moms

The national convulsion over Amy Chua’s parenting has lead people to hate or fear mothers like me. They should feel sorry for us instead.
By Sandra Tsing Loh   Share   

The Ivy Delusion

The real reason the good mothers are so rattled by Amy Chua
By Caitlin Flanagan   Share   

Leave Those Kids Alone

Childhood isn’t a springboard to adulthood, but a well of experience.
By Christina Schwarz   Share   
Flanagan, who used to be the college admissions counselor at Harvard-Westlake on Coldwater Canyon (where I vaguely recall there being a couple of student suicides a half decade ago), writes:
The good mothers went to Brown, and they read The Drama of the Gifted Child, and they feel things very deeply, and they love their children in a way that is both complicated and primal, and they will make any sacrifice for them. They know that it takes a lot of time to nurture and guide a child—and also that time is fleeting, and that the bliss of having your kids at home is painfully short-lived—and so most of them have cut back on their professional aspirations in significant ways. The good mothers have certain ideas about how success in life is achieved, and these ideas have been sizzled into their brains by popularizers such as Joseph Campbell and Oprah Winfrey, and they boil down to this: everyone has at least one natural talent (the good mothers call it a “passion”), and creativity, effortless success, and beaucoup dinero flow not from banging your head against the closed door of, say, organic chemistry if you’re not that excited by it, but from dwelling deeply and ecstatically inside the thing that gives you the most pleasure. But you shouldn’t necessarily—or under any circumstances, actually—follow your bliss in a way that keeps you out of Yale. Because Yale is important, too! So important. The good mothers believe that their children should be able to follow their passions all the way to New Haven, Connecticut, and this obdurate belief of theirs is the reason so many of them (Obama voters, Rosa Parks diorama co-creators, gay-rights supporters, champions, in every conceivable way, of racial diversity and tolerance) are suddenly ready to demand restoration of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Because Amy Chua has revealed, in so many blunt and horrifying words, why the good mothers are getting spanked, and why it’s only going to get worse. 
The whole thing is quite fair.
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Here’s an article from the Toronto Star that got me wondering about something else:

Long admired for raising academic superstars, parents of Asian background are coming under fire from their own community for pushing their children into university programs for which many have no real interest or talent and often quit in distress.

At a recent conference hosted by and for the [Greater Toronto Area’s] Asian community, Chinese-Canadian educators and professionals warned some 300 parents in Mandarin, Cantonese and English to stop giving their children no other choice than professional courses such as engineering, medicine, accounting or pharmacy — programs for which some are so ill-equipped and uninterested they drop out, fail, get suspended for cheating or suffer depression and acute anxiety.

This is the kind of article that you’d read in Los Angeles back in the 1970s: “Mellow Out, Chinese Dudes.” 
Since then, however, American parents in LA have largely decided that 1400 years of Chinese test prep (the first Chinese civil service exams were held in 605 A.D.) can’t be wrong, and have since switched their tunes to the Chinese one: getting into a fancy college is the most important thing ever.
But that Canadians are just now finally getting around to this raises a different question, one about differences between America and Canada. Granted, I don’t know very much about Canada. Most of the time I’ve spent in Canada was in Holiday Inn Crowne Plazas, but I can say that Canada looked a lot like America (or at least its Crowne Plazas did). The main difference I noticed on business trips in the 1990s was that everybody drove around during the day with their headlights on, like they were on their way to some national funeral. “Did Wayne Gretzky die?” I asked, but it just turned out to be a safety regulation. 
Anyway, my point is that because America and Canada are so similar, it’s interesting when they differ, especially when they differ in something that we Americans assume is just an inevitability of 21st Century life, like College Admissions Mania. In 2010, Chinese immigrants in LA and Toronto apparently feel the same way about getting into college, but Americans and Canadians evidently don’t.
I just realized that I have no idea if Canadians get all worked up over getting into college the way Americans do.
If Canadians do, you sure don’t hear about it much. Off the top of my head, I can name all of four colleges in Canada (Simon Fraser, McGill, U. of Toronto, and U. of Western Ontario). I guess that Canadian colleges must not employ the vast number of publicists and promoters that American colleges do. For example, to pick small liberal arts college at random, Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA has an Admissions Staff of 13, while Grinnell College in Iowa (1600 students) has an Admissions staff of 19. They spend the first few months of the year reading applications, but most of the rest of the year promoting their respective colleges. 
To an American by now, that just seems like the natural order of things. How can you have a modern civilization of Holiday Inn Crowne Plazas and automobile safety regulators without having a vast pyramid of increasingly exclusive colleges all expensively elbowing each other for the spotlight?
But, does it seem inevitable to a Canadian? The only thing I’ve ever read about college admissions in Canada was a Malcolm Gladwell article about his own extremely low-key experience getting into college, which made Canada in the 1980s sound like America in a Heinlein novel in the 1950s: You know, when it’s Labor Day Weekend and the 18-year-old hero of the book still hasn’t decided where he’s going to go to college: “I don’t know, I guess I’ll take the bus down to State U. on Tuesday and register for some classes.”
So, if you know anything about college admissions in Canada, please let me know.

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The prestige of colleges is a topic of broad interest, but it doesn’t seem like it has been studied objectively very much. In particular, the list of prestigious colleges in 2010 seems quite similar to that of 1975. Moreover, being a prestigious college like Harvard in 2010 seems like even a bigger deal than being Harvard in 1975. This suggests that the people running colleges have largely not messed up. 
But, they mostly all do roughly what their peers do — for example, admissions policy generally consists of special advantages for blacks and (to a lesser extent Hispanics), legacies, and athletes, with some discrimination against Asians. It’s hard to tell if this is a wise policy, though, since it’s a consensus policy. For example, the Ivies, plus MIT and some other northeastern colleges used to get together in a conference room each year to fix prices for individual students that more than one colleges wanted to admit: the Ivy Overlap Group.
So, I’m looking for outliers. For example, Caltech doesn’t have legacy admissions and doesn’t seem to care much about affirmative action. Reed, which aims at the intellectually serious hippie niche, doesn’t do affirmative action. It doesn’t strike me that either one has gotten much of a boost in prestige over the last 35 years from its independent attitudes. The UC schools aren’t supposed to discriminate on race anymore, so there may be less discrimination against Asians there than elsewhere.
What other outlier schools are there in terms of admissions policies?

What about outliers who  have climbed or fallen in prestige?  What did they do right or wrong?

Then, from this, are there any general lessons to be learned about how to get ahead in the college racket? I mean, other than to have been founded in 1636?

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Here’s a paper by Thomas J. Espenshade et al based on 125,000 applications for freshman admission at three highly selective private research universities in the 1980s and a couple of classes in the 1990s. The usual suspects really help your chances at getting in: being smart, being black, being Hispanic (to a lesser extent than black), being a legacy, and being an athlete. 
Being an athlete grew in value over this time period, perhaps due to the growth in female sports. The authors didn’t look into this specifically. (In general, college athletics for women has been a very nice boon to the upper middle class, since a huge proportion of female athletes come from intact two parent families where Dad pushes his daughter into sports: e.g., women’s golf teams are not made up of the daughters of single moms.)
Or maybe colleges just found that athletes are bigger donors later in life? Maybe it’s the bonding experience of competing for your college? If so, colleges should look into more non-athletic competitions for nerdier students to strengthen their emotional ties to their college. For example, I represented Rice at various College Bowl tournaments around the country.
Being a legacy is a nice boost, but the problem with being a legacy is that it’s not portable across all universities like being a black or a jock. If you are like Obama’s kids and are legacies at four different Ivy League schools, well, that’s nice, but if you are a legacy at only one college and you don’t particularly want to go there or you don’t get in there, well, that’s not as nice.
Also, the study doesn’t answer the big question everybody has about legacies — is it good enough just to be a legacy even if your cheapskate parent hasn’t donated anything since you were born or does your parent have to have donated substantial amounts to the college to be a Real Legacy? If the latter, how much?
Also, being Asian hurts your chances, even when being an athlete and a legacy are controlled for. It would be worth knowing more about this. Do colleges figure Asians won’t donate as much as alumni? Do colleges figure Asian test scores are inflated by test prep? Do colleges figure Asians make the campus experience less fun or less interesting and thus the college less attractive? And, are any of these presuppositions true? It would seem like an important and interesting topic to find out more about.
(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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