- EphBlog - http://ephblog.com -

Amherst is Getting Stupider

Jeff and I are having a dispute about the interaction between Amherst’s increased committment to enrolling lower income students and the quality of its student body. See the thread for details. Jeff claims that:

Amherst DID meet [President Tony] Marx’s goal, and without any negative impact on the school’s aggregate SAT scores, which are precisely the same as Williams (essentially), and precisely the same as they were before Marx’s tenure (or maybe a tad higher).

Facts are stubborn things.

Amherst, to its credit, makes public an annual Report to Secondary Schools. (Williams ought to do the same. We should always be at least as transparent as Amherst.) The Reports are excellent documents, thorough and thoughtful. Consider this table about the Critical Reading test scores for the class of 2009.


A lovely distribution. Amherst is an amazing college because it has amazing students. Then, President Marx comes along and decides to increase the enrollment of lower income students. Since admissions spots are limited (let’s ignore recent changes in Amherst class sizes), this means decreasing the enrollment of high income students. Alas, because of the correlation between family income and SAT scores, the only way to do this is be decreasing SAT scores at Amherst. Four years later, we have this for the class of 2013.


1) Jeff is wrong. Amherst’s verbal SAT scores are significantly lower. (Math and ACT scores tell a similar story.) In admissions, there is no free lunch.

2) The trade-off is exactly as I described it four years ago.

The basic thrust of the article is that Marx is going to start letting in lots of 1350 SAT students from lower income families while rejecting more 1550 SAT students from higher income families.

And that is what happened. The percentage of Amherst students with a verbal SAT score from 750-800 has decreased from 47% to 35%. That is a huge change, accomplished mostly by only accepting 467 such students, down more than 580 from 4 years previously. The percentage of Amherst students with a verbal SAT score 600 or below has increased from 4% to 10%. Again, a large change in the context of elite higher education.

I hope that Marx’s successor continues with this policy, that he pushes Amherst to be even more socio-economically diverse, that he rejects even more (rich) students with 1550 SATs (who Williams will accept) while accepting more (poor) students with 1350 SATs (who Williams will reject).

It does not take a genius to figure out where Amherst will be in fifty years if it continues down this road.