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Pell Grant, 5

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 5.

The lowest Pell share on the list belonged to Washington and Lee University — 6 percent. Will Dudley, who this year became president of the private Virginia liberal arts school, said the share rose to 11 percent this fall and he wants to lift it further. Dudley said he raised the issue of socioeconomic diversity at Washington and Lee when he was interviewing for the job. Previously, he was provost at Williams College, which had a far higher Pell share in 2015 — 22 percent. “If they didn’t want to make progress, they wouldn’t have hired me,” Dudley said.

Washington and Lee President Will Dudley said the university’s share grew to 11 percent this fall and he wants it to rise further.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t want to be a school that is near the bottom of the pack.”

EphBlog loves Will Dudley ’89, but this sort of prattle makes me less unhappy that he won’t be the next president of Williams.

First, admissions are, largely, a zero-sum game. Every high quality low-income student that Dudley brings to Washington and Lee is one less high quality low-income student who goes to school X. Does that really make the world a better place? I have my doubts.

Second, Washington and Lee is #10 on US News. Not bad, of course, but nowhere near the first tier, mainly because the quality of the student body is so much worse than at places like Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore.

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A better president would devote his energy toward improving the overall quality of the student body (which is not an easy thing to do!) rather than parading his virtue to the readers of the Washington Post.

Third, if I were a Washington and Lee trustee, I would challenge Dudley about his focus on Pell Grants as a meaningful measure of socio-economic diversity. It is not a bad measure, but, as we have discussed all week, it is not a particularly good measure because a) it changes over time via Congressional whim and b) it is too dependent on one specific point in the income distribution. If all Dudley has done in the last year is to replace a bunch of applicants from families who make $70,000 with other applicants whose families make $50,000 — and who would have been rejected in the past because their credentials were worse — because the latter are Pell-eligible), then he has accomplished very little, and certainly has no business bragging about it to the Post.

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Pell Grant, 4

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 4.

The quest for diversity has a long history at this school founded in Colonial America. Hurdles for Jewish and black students were torn down in the 1950s and ’60s. Princeton started admitting women as undergraduates in 1969, going coed 23 years after its bicentennial.

More puffery! How much is Princeton paying Rob Anderson to tell these happy stories? A better reporter would at least mention some of the ugliness from Princeton’s past. Our favorite story involves Radcliffe Heermance, Williams class of 1906 and Director of Admissions at Princeton from 1922 to 1950. Consider:

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Apologies if this is tough to read, but to describe what blacks students faced at Princeton during Heermance’s tenure as “hurdles” is insulting to the memory of American patriots like Bruce Wright.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admission, said officers also were trained to hunt for talent in “much less polished” application files — those with essays that are not quite perfect, test scores obtained without help from private tutoring, or hastily written teacher recommendations.

By 2013, the Pell-eligible share had doubled to nearly 15 percent. For the next year’s class, Rapelye took another step: She asked Princeton’s financial aid office to advise which promising applicants were likely to qualify for Pell. She noted that data in their files before making final decisions.

“It doesn’t mean that we automatically admit these students,” Rapelye said. But Pell eligibility became another factor among many in the “holistic” review of an application at one of the world’s most selective schools. Princeton’s admission rate is 6 percent.

Janet Rapelye is Williams College class of 1981. After 15 years heading admissions at Princeton, she is certainly one of the most powerful Ephs of her era. There is a great senior thesis to be written comparing her time to Heermance’s. Who will write it?

Consider how Princeton has (not!) changed during Rapelye’s tenure.

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There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students from the bottom 60% of the income distribution during Janet Rapelye’s 15 year tenure as director of admissions at Princeton. This is the reality that the Washington Post describes, with a straight face, as “Princeton draws surge of students from modest means.”

Of course, one counter-argument is that this data is 5 or so years old. Princeton just got the socio-economic diversity religion recently. Perhaps! And there is some evidence that Princeton has fewer students from the top 20% and more from the second 20%. But, big picture, Princeton is probably every bit as much a rich kid’s school today as it was in Heermance’s era.

Also, note the article passage that I have bolded above. Five years ago, Princeton (and Vassar and Williams and . . .) did not much care what your family income was if it was in the middle of the US distribution, say between the 40th percentile ($42,000) and the 80th percentile ($107,000). They might have given an extra break to very poor applicants, but, for a broad range, family income did not matter much. Now, it does matter, at one very specific point in that range. If you are Pell-eligible, then you have a big advantage over a student whose family makes $1,000 more because Janet Rapelye is focused on pumping up the percentage of Pell students at Princeton, so much so that she is determining whether or not you are so eligible even before she makes a decision on your application.

Smart applicants will do everything in their power to appear Pell-eligible to Princeton. Do readers have advice on the best way to accomplish this goal? I suspect that the key is to under-estimate family assets.

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Pell Grant, 3

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 3.

Here is the happy story of Vassar.

In 2007, 12 percent of freshmen entering Vassar had enough need to qualify for federal Pell Grants. Within two years, the share had climbed to 20 percent and federal data showed it has stayed above that threshold ever since. In 2015, the Pell share for Vassar was 23 percent.

Catharine Hill, president of Vassar from 2006 to 2016, said the school’s record shows it is possible to broaden the demographic base of a selective college — drawing more students from low- and moderate-income families — without compromising standards. “In most cases, if you wanted to do more, you could do more,” Hill said. “All we had to do was go looking for kids. Our academic credentials actually went up.”

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill something fierce. She aimed to increase the percentage of Pell-eligible students at Vassar and succeeded in doing so. But did she meaningfully increase socio-economic diversity at Vassar? Consider the data:

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1) There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students who come from families in the top 1%. It was 10% 15 years ago. It around 10% now. I, obviously, have no problem with that, but the Washington Post ought to at least mention this narrative-challenging fact. Is Rob Anderson a reporter or Cappy Hill’s PR flack?

2) At the other end of the distribution, only 5.4% of Vassar students are currently from families in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Alas, the Times does not show us the time series of that statistic, but I bet that it has been fairly steady over time. Vassar has offered plenty of students full scholarships for decades.

3) In Cappy’s defense, there has been some movement lower in between the 20th and the 90th percentile of the income distribution. In essence, she replaced a bunch of students with incomes around the 65th percentile (around $70,000) with students from families making more like $50,000. The former group are not eligible for Pell, the latter are. Is this some giant victory for the forces of social justice? I doubt it.

Private colleges face their own constraints. They rely more heavily on tuition revenue, making it essential to enroll a large number of students who pay in full. They also set aside seats for children of alumni, known as “legacies.” Like public colleges, they also hold spots for athletes and chase students with high SAT or ACT scores, despite evidence that performance on admission tests is linked to family income.

How many stupidities can Rob Anderson put into one paragraph? First, the average academic credentials of legacies at Williams are better than those of non-legacies. The same is almost certainly true at Vassar and at Princeton. Second, “performance on admission tests is linked to family income” because rich parents are, on average, smarter than poor parents, and all parents pass on their genes to their children.

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Pell Grant, 2

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 2.

In little more than a dozen years, Princeton University tripled the share of freshmen who qualify for federal Pell Grants to 22 percent this fall. The grants, targeting students from low-to-moderate-income families with significant financial need, are a key indicator of economic diversity. The Ivy League school’s transformation reflects mounting pressure on top colleges, public and private, to provide more opportunity to communities where poverty is common and college degrees scarce.

If Rob Anderson were a reporter, as opposed to a stenographer, he would ask a simple question: What is the family income of the 1,000th poorest student at Princeton and how has that changed over time? (Of course, we really want to see how the whole distribution changes, but a simple number like this would tell basic story.) In the Williams context:

In 1998, the 426th poorest family at Williams had a family income of $63,791. What is the family income of the 426th poorest family at Williams today? How has that number changed over the last two decades?

Pell Grants are only a rough proxy for (part of) what we really care about: economic diversity. But it is a proxy that Williams (and Princeton) don’t have to use because they know the family income of all the students (more than 50% of the campus) who requests financial aid. The fact that they don’t tell us these much more meaningful numbers makes me deeply suspicious.

The grants are an imperfect measure of diversity. Researchers say the Pell-eligible share of freshmen at some top schools rose at least a few percentage points in recent years because Congress expanded the maximum grant and because incomes fell during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009.

In other words, a college might have changed nothing about its recruiting in that time and still looked a bit better. But it is clear the Pell share has become an influential metric in the Ivy League and beyond.

Exactly right. Moreover, Anderson is (purposely?) underplaying the strength of this complaint. (And his failure to mention Raj Chetty by name is an indication of amateurism, perhaps caused by Chetty’s close connection to the New York Times. Key details (pdf):

At Ivy-Plus colleges, the fraction of students receiving Pell grants increased from 12.1% to 16.8% between 2000-2011, an increase that has been interpreted as evidence of growth in low-income access at these colleges. In Online Appendix F, we show that the apparent discrepancy between trends in Pell shares and our percentile-based statistics, which show little or no change in low-income access, is driven by two factors. First, Congress raised the income eligibility threshold for Pell Grants significantly between 2000 and 2011, mechanically increasing the share of families that qualified for Pell grants. Second, as noted above, incomes fell sharply during the 2000s at the bottom of the distribution, further increasing the number of families whose incomes placed them below the Pell eligibility threshold. We estimate that the changes in eligibility rules mechanically increased Pell shares at Ivy-Plus colleges by approximately 2.9 pp from 2000-2011, while the decline in real incomes increased Pell shares by approximately 2.5 pp (Online Appendix Figure IX). Together, these changes fully account for the observed increase in Pell shares. Accounting for these factors, the Pell data imply that there was no significant change in the parental income distribution of students at Ivy-Plus colleges between 2000-201.

There is no evidence that socio-economic diversity increased at places like Princeton between 2000 and 2011, despite the increase in the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants. A competent reporter would have mentioned this fact and/or sought a quote from Chetty or one of his co-authors. The Princeton PR Department, of course, prefers the story as currently published.

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Pell Grant, 1

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 1.

The elite protect each other, which is the best way to understand how Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson ends up providing such a tongue-bath to Princeton. Start with the title:

How an Ivy got less preppy: Princeton draws surge of students from modest means

The term “preppy” comes, obviously, from the “prep” schools that have been feeding students to Princeton (and Williams) for generations. With that title, you would expect some evidence, or even a discussion, about whether (or not!) there are, in truth, fewer prep schools students at elite colleges. Surprise! There is no discussion. As best we know, there are as many students from prep schools like Andover, Exeter and Groton today as there were 50 years ago.

Consider Amherst: 34% (pdf) are from “private” schools in the class of 2020, compared to 38% (pdf) in the class of 2003. Now, you might argue that a 4% decrease is a meaningful change. Maybe. But, a decade ago, it was 35% (pdf) for the class of 2010, so whatever “progress” has been made stopped cold more than a decade ago. I bet that the (lack of) trends at Princeton (and Williams) have been similar. There is no evidence of elite colleges have become less “preppy” over the last decade.

There is, however, an increased reliance on Pell Grants to measure economic diversity.

Pell Grants, worth up to $5,920 apiece this year, are the foundation of need-based financial aid. They are awarded through a formula that assesses family size, assets, income and other factors. Most go to students whose families make less than $50,000 a year, a range that spans deep poverty to moderate income.

We have discussed before that Pell Grants are an imperfect proxy. Recall that international students are not eligible. A school with 50% of its students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. More details to come tomorrow. There can be little doubt, however, that going forward, Pell Grants will be important.

As soon as a metric becomes important, it starts to be gamed:

They even began checking family finances before deciding whom to admit. The point was not to exclude those in need but, possibly, to boost their chances.

It used to be that Princeton accepted student X (with family income of $60,000) over student Y (with family income of $50,000, and therefore Pell-eligible) if X had better test scores, grades, recommendation letters and so on. With this new policy, that changes. If Princeton thinks that you will be awarded a Pell, you now have a (large?) advantage over applicants with, for all practical purposes, the same socio-economic standing. What should smart applicants do?

U-Penn.’s dean of admissions, Eric Furda, said the university, with more than 10,000 undergraduates, also produces every year a high number of graduates who were Pell grant recipients. But he acknowledged that the school wants to have a higher freshman Pell share than its rate of 13 percent in 2016 and 14 percent in 2015, and is exploring how to do that.

“If this is going to be the measure,” Furda said, “then just what we’ve been doing for 10 years is not going to necessarily be enough.”

Indeed. Advice to applicants: Do whatever you can to convince Furda (and Princeton and Williams and . . .) that you will be eligible for a Pell Grant.

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Incredibly Diverse IV

The last paragraph of the College’s news release about the class of 2020 is so filled with fascinating facts that we need four days to go through it. Today is Day 4.

Fifty percent of students will receive financial aid, with an average aid package of $53,194.

Remember last September when we mocked New York Times editor David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) for his naiveté in believing that “Williams has recently been making an effort to become more [economically diverse].” This was absurd because, for decades, Williams has been run by people who care a great deal about socio-economic diversity. For Williams to pretend otherwise — and for Leonhardt to allow them to pretend without doing any real reporting — was embarrassing.

Although we documented this absurdity then, the arrival of the class of 2020 allows us an opportunity to revisit it. Leonhardt reported, as fact, that Williams cared more about economic diversity now than it has in the passed. Perhaps the simplest measure of such caring is: How many students receive financial aid? At first glance, 50% of the class of 2020 receiving financial aid seems diverse! But, 8 years ago, fifty percent of the class of 2012 received financial aid. And, 11 years ago, 49% of the students in the class of 2009 received financial aid.

About half of each Williams class has been on financial aid for more than a decade. If “percentage on financial aid” is your preferred measure of economic diversity, then Williams is no more diverse now than it was in 2005.

Not so fast! Williams total cost has dramatically increases over the last decade, from $42,310 to $65,480 this year. (By the way, is there some official source of total costs over time at Williams?) Since US cash-incomes are largely flat over this time period, Williams has become much less economically diverse in the last decade.

In other words, in 2005, the wealth/income of the median family at Williams was large enough that they could afford $42,310. In 2016, the median family at Williams is much richer! It can afford $65,480. In all likelihood, the entire distribution of family income/wealth has significantly increased. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Williams has always been a school for the children of the rich, now more than ever.

And EphBlog does not mind! Williams should accept/recruit/enroll the most academically gifted and ambitious 18 year-old English-fluent students in the world. Some will be rich, some poor. Some US citizens, some not. The changes in the joint distribution of income/wealth/IQ in the population at large, changes forecast in The Bell Curve a generation ago, are not the College’s problem.

Studying the increase/decrease/stability of economic diversity at Williams over the last 50 years would make for a great senior thesis. Start with my ten day rant on related topics in 2014. Summary: The economic diversity at Williams has been largely constant for 50 years. There were poor kids at Williams in the 1960’s. There are poor students today.

What should the Record investigate? Easy! Start here and here for background. Then ask new provost Dukes Love the following question:

In 1998, the 426th poorest family at Williams had a family income of $63,791. What is the family income of the 426th poorest family at Williams today? How has that number changed over the last two decades?

Professor Love has easy access to this data because the College has the family incomes for every student who requests aid. He could answer this question. Is the Record smart enough to ask it?

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Welcome to the Class of 2019 III

See the news release on early admissions for details. There is enough good information here that we need to spend four days reviewing it. This is day 3.

Twenty-two students are first-generation college students (that is, neither parent has a four-year college degree), almost twice last year’s total, and nearly 20 percent of Early Decision admits come from low-income families. “We are especially gratified by the socioeconomic diversity represented in the Early Decision group, a direct result of the success of two expanded fall fly-in programs for high-ability, low-income students,” Nesbitt said.

1) See our Socio-Ec Admissions category for much more background on this topic. Highlights: Defining low socio-economic status is hard, both because opinions vary as to what disadvantages matter and because of a lack of data from applicants. Different colleges do it different ways. At Williams, the traditional definition is, as above, neither parent with a four year college degree and checking the need-financial-aid box. So, even if your parents are (retired) millionaires and you have gone to Milton for 12 years, you add “socioeconomic diversity” to Williams as long as the no-4-year-degree criteria is met.

2) Does the Williams definition still require checking the need-financial-aid box? Is there such a box on the Common Ap? Annoyingly, a PDF version of the Common Ap is no longer available.

3) How does the College know that 20% of students come from “low-income families?” Unless the Common Ap has changed (corrections welcome), there is no income information. I suspect that the College counts anyone who asks for a fee waiver as “low income,” but this seems highly suspect to me. Students, at least smart ones, know that Williams gives advantages to poorer applicants, so why not ask for a fee waiver? Note that the requirements for asking for (and always receiving?) a fee waiver or incredibly loose. They include:

You are enrolled in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families (e.g., TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
Your family receives public assistance.
You can provide a supporting statement from a school official, college access counselor, financial aid officer, or community leader.

So, if you grab an apple from the local food bank one time (and therefore receive “public assistance”), you can check this box.

Advice to applicants: Always ask for a fee waiver.

4) As much as Williams likes to preen about the its “socioeconomic diversity,” that diversity has been decreasing dramatically in recent years, even by the College’s own (suspect) metrics. For the class of 2012, 21% of all students were first generation. In recent classes, according President Falk’s public talks, it has been around 1/7. So, there will be around 58 fewer first generation students in the class of 2019 then there were in the class of 2012. Progress, comrades!

(Yes, I see that 20% of the students in ED were first generation, but that percentage will almost certainly come down for the final pool, at least assuming that the class of 2019 is similar to recent classes.)

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Worshipping at the Shrine of Pell

A loyal reader asks for my comments on this New York Times article.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.

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Lots of rich schools are, unsurprisingly, at the top of these rankings. It is easy to preen if you have a billion dollar endowment. Perhaps naively, I expected Williams to be higher. I am surprised by how well (if that is the word you want to use) Vassar, led by President Cappy Hill ’76, has done. Details on the methodology:

To measure top colleges’ efforts on economic diversity, The Upshot calculated a College Access Index, based on the share of freshmen in recent years who came from low-income families (measured by the share receiving a Pell grant) and on the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families. The following table also shows colleges’ endowment per student, which is a measure of the resources available to colleges. Colleges with a four-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher in 2011-12 are included.

Comments:

1) I find the focus on Pell Grants deeply suspect. First, international students are not eligible. So, a school that with 50% of it students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. Second, it is not obvious that Pell Grant eligibility is a good measure of economic diversity. Would the child of a rich (but retired) parents be included? I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

2) The numbers are suspect. The key phrase is “net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.” See the methodological details. (Kudos for transparency.) Also, the raw data seems off. Vassar is at $5,600 but Amherst is $8,400? Impossible! Amherst is much, much richer than Vassar, and is every bit (perhaps even more so) committed to socio-economic diversity as Vassar. Why would they charge poor families 50% more than Amherst does? I believe that the authors got the numbers correctly from IPEDS, I just doubt the quality of the underlying data.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor X

Tenth (and final!) installment in our two-week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

In order to bring a little historical context to this discussion, I was digging through the Williams archives and came across this statement from an alumnus from the late 1800s.

Nothing like another blasphemous claim that Men are descendant from Apes to encourage good feelings among the students and alumni of Williams!*

It must have been tough to have been a good Christian gentleman toward the end of the 19th century, to have been raised from birth to believe in the Gospel, and then to confront the scientific fact of evolution. Many, of course, could then (and today!) combine Christian Faith with a recognition of the reality of evolution. But, for any individual, the transition must have been jarring.

Or you ready for a similar jarring? Consider this comment from the start of our series.

Nothing like an umpteen-part discourse on how poor people are too genetically inferior to attend Williams to build good will for the relaunch of Ephblog!

First, the rhetoric here is lazy. No one believes that “inferiority” is a relevant term. I don’t consider my children to be “genetically inferior” — in general terms — to the children of much taller, more athletic men. But the genes are what they are. Neither my children nor my grand children will ever play in the NBA because they lack the minimum genetic gifts for doing so. And that is OK! It certainly does not make them “inferior.”

And the same harsh truth applies to other people when it comes to the genetics for success in academics. Consider:

Many genomic elements in humans are associated with behavior, including educational attainment. In a genome-wide association study including more than 100,000 samples, Rietveld et al. (p. 1467, published online 30 May; see the Perspective by Flint and Munafò) looked for genes related to educational attainment in Caucasians. Small genetic effects at three loci appeared to impact educational attainment.

The specific loci are: rs9320913, rs11584700, rs4851266. That has the harsh ring of science, doesn’t it? Here is some more science:

We identify common genetic variants associated with cognitive performance using a two-stage approach, which we call the proxy-phenotype method. First, we conduct a genome-wide association study of educational attainment in a large sample (n = 106,736), which produces a set of 69 education-associated SNPs. Second, using independent samples (n = 24,189), we measure the association of these education-associated SNPs with cognitive performance. Three SNPs (rs1487441, rs7923609, and rs2721173) are significantly associated with cognitive performance after correction for multiple hypothesis testing.

There are probably several thousand genes which, together, explain a large percentage of the variance in academic success, both in K-12 leading up to Williams and at Williams itself. Does that mean that people with the wrong settings for rs1487441 et al are genetically inferior? No! No more than my descendants are genetically inferior because they lack the (undiscovered) genes which help to explain basketball success.

Yet the reality of genetic (partial) explanations of success and failure is as inevitable as the triumph of evolution in our understanding of human origins. And, as we identify these genes, we will soon discover that their distribution is not uniform, that some groups of people have more of these genetic advantages that cause (not just correlate!) with academic success and some groups of people have fewer.

Prediction: Sample 1,000 rich people and 1,000 poor people in the US. Many more rich people than poor people will have the “preferred” settings for rs9320913 and friends. And that means that the more of the children of rich people than of poor people will have these same settings. And that will explain, at least partially, why there are more students at Williams from rich families than from poor families.

You read it first at EphBlog.

* OK, OK. I made up that quote about Apes. Sue me! Experts in Williams history can surely help me come up with something appropriate. Or I could just go with something from Summer for the Gods . . .

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor IX

Ninth installment in our two-week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

From The New York Times article we discussed yesterday:

Kids at the most selective colleges often struggle academically, but they are capable of doing the work. The real key is whether they feel comfortable going to professors to ask for help or teaming up with other students in study groups and to manage the workload.

“Capable of doing the work” covers a lot of sins. The question is not: How capable is a poor student with 1300 Math/Reading SATs? With those scores, she is in the 90th percentile nationally. Very smart! But, at Williams (pdf), she is in the 20th (or maybe the 10th?) percentile in her class. Not so smart, at least compared to her classmates.

And that is, potentially, OK. Someone has got to have the lowest SAT scores in the class. The key is whether or not Williams is honest with applicants about just what scores like that suggest about her likely future at Williams.

Consider a concrete example: How many math majors at Williams have a Math SAT score at 650 or below? I bet that, round numbers, it is close to zero. But that means that, if she wants to be a math teacher someday, our hypothetical applicant would be much better off going to her state university (where she would be as smart as most of the math majors) than she would be going to Williams (where her odds of successfully completing the math major are very low). At the very least, Williams owes its applicants the truth about the reality of academic life at elite colleges. Bromides and tripe about how “capable” every is? Spare us the sanctimony.

Want to believe that, at 1350, a student — especially one from a not-so-good high school — will be capable of doing the work at Williams, even on the math major or pre-med track? Fine. I don’t want to disabuse your sweet dreams. But those aren’t the worst cases. Consider:

SAT

Is Williams doing those students (approximately 30 in each class) with SAT scores below 600 any favors by admitting them?
I have my doubts. (And that fact that the College never tells us what happens to those students while they are at Williams speaks volumes about the hidden truth.)

Consider simple question: The Williams 6-year graduation rate is 95%. Pretty good! But that is for the class as a whole. What is the 6-year graduation rate for a student with at Math/Reading SAT below 1200. You can bet that it is much worse than 95%. Call it 70%. Is it really such a tragedy if such students decide to go to a school at which they will be academically well-matched with their peers?

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor VIII

Eighth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

And at a narrower, more elite group of 28 private colleges and universities, including all eight Ivy League members, researchers at Vassar and Williams Colleges found that from 2001 to 2009, a period of major increases in financial aid at those schools, enrollment of students from the bottom 40 percent of family incomes increased from just 10 percent to 11 percent.

Even with the best intentions, tapping the pool of high-performing low-income students can be hard. Studies point to many reasons poorer students with good credentials do not apply to competitive colleges, like lack of encouragement at home and at school, thinking (correctly or not) that they cannot afford it or believing they would be out of place, academically or socially.

First, let’s change the title of this article from “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” to “Generation Later, Children of Short People Are Still Rare in the NBA.” Does that still seem surprising, or even problematic? Short people have, on average, short children. And being short dramatically decreases your odds of making the NBA. Of course, these (true) empirical claims are just averages. It is possible for short parents to have a tall child and/or for a short person to make it in the NBA. But no one should be surprised that it is rare.

Similarly, poverty is correlated with lower intelligence and work ethic and these traits, like height, are partially genetic. So, it is hardly surprising that a child of poor parents is less likely than a child of rich parents to have the sort of academic credentials that Williams wants.

Second, is the concern about being “out of place” something we should dismiss out of hand? Don’t many poor students, especially those from far away, feel out of place at Williams? In fact, they do, at least if you believe The New York Times:

When lower-income students start college, they often struggle to finish for many reasons, but social isolation and alienation can be big factors.

But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus. The more elite the school, the wider that gap.

To stay four years and graduate, students have to come to terms with the unspoken transaction: exchanging your old world for a new world, one that doesn’t seem to value where you came from.

Being young, I didn’t understand, believing myself immune to the idea that any gain might entail a corresponding loss. I was keen to exchange my Western hardscrabble life for the chance to be a New York City middle-class museumgoer. I’ve paid a price in estrangement from my own people, but I was willing. Not every 18-year-old will make that same choice, especially when race is factored in as well as class.

But how can we help our students prepare for the tug of war in their souls?

We can be honest. The fact that Cappy Hill, Tony Marx, Morty Schapiro and the rest of the Cathedral are not honest with these students is the single most infuriating thing about socio-economic affirmative action. For example, consider a non-rich senior from an average high school with 1300 Reading/Math SATs. Such a student, before accepting an offer of admissions from Williams, would like to know his odds of graduating in 4 years. But Williams won’t tell him! Williams refuses to reveal data that would help admitted students to better judge whether or not attending Williams is a wise decision.

Of course, we should do everything we can to alleviate feelings of out-of-placedness among all students at Williams, but we should not pretend that they don’t exist. Moreover, we shouldn’t mislead poor students about the challenges that await them at a place like Williams, especially poor students who we admit with academic credentials significantly below their peers.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor VII

Seventh installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Harvard, Princeton, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill eliminated early admission programs that were seen as favoring affluent students.

How clueless is Perez-Pena? As I explained 8 (!) years ago, the programs themselves did not meaningfully favor rich students:

First, note that reference to “early admissions programs” in general rather than to Harvard’s early action program specifically. Not all programs provide such an advantages. MIT and Caltech, for example, both offer early admissions programs that provide the same odds of admissions to applicants as they would receive in regular admissions. Applying early to Harvard improves your odds of acceptance. Applying early to MIT does not. Bok’s quote only applies to programs, like Harvard, which as a matter of conscious policy give an advantage to early applicants. Harvard could have kept early action and just made it fair, held early applicants to the same standards as regular applicants. It didn’t do that because its goal is not to be fair. Harvard’s goal is to change the structure of elite admissions.

Back to the article:

Some colleges stopped including loans in financial aid packages, so that all aid came in the form of grants. Others lowered prices for all but affluent families, not requiring any contribution from parents below a certain income threshold, like $65,000.

But the colleges that ended early admissions reinstated them within a few years, after other elite schools declined to follow their lead, putting them at a disadvantage in drawing top students.

Moral preening is only really fun if it doesn’t cost you anything. Once it does, it ends.

Recall our discussion from 2006

There is almost no chance that Williams will make a change now. It has too much to lose. It also stands the potential of making some non-trivial gains. First, students who, in the past, would have applied early to and gotten accepted by Harvard/Princeton, will now be tempted by early decision at Williams. Isn’t the appeal of having the whole process done by December 15th as great now as it was 25 years ago? Second, those students will need to apply to other schools regular decision, including Williams. Many will be accepted and some will fall in love with Williams. They will end up at Williams because Harvard and Princeton no longer provide an early admissions option.

Will either effect be large? Tough to know. But if even 25 kids, who would have gone to H/P, end up at Williams instead, that would be important to the overall quality of the Williams student body.

I predicted that this would happen:

[L]ots of schools have no interest in following Harvard’s lead because EA/ED (early action/early decision) are useful programs (for them). Of course, Harvard doesn’t care what lesser schools do, but if Yale/Stanford/Princeton don’t follow suit, EA will be back in two years.

In the end, it took longer than two years, but Harvard re-instated early action just as I foresaw. Harvard can put up with many things, but losing top students to its competitors is not one of them.

All of which gives the lie to the moral preening of 2006.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor VI

Sixth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“If you come from a family and a neighborhood where no one has gone to a fancy college, you have no way of knowing that’s even a possibility,” said Anthony W. Marx, president of the New York Public Library, and a former president of Amherst. “And if you go on their website, the first thing you’re going to look for is the sticker price. End of conversation.”

Does anyone else find Tony Marx as annoying as I do? Doubtful! After all, his main societal function is to be the courtier for the plutocrats who fund the New York Public Library, a gig for which he gets paid almost $800,000 per year. (Who knew that librarians did so well?)

And, of course, I am sad that Marx is no longer president of Amherst since he seemed well on his way to making Amherst a much less formidable competitor (here and here).

But the real sleaze here is Marx and others like him misleading poor students about the actual costs and benefits of elite colleges.

But even top private colleges with similar sticker prices differ enormously in net prices, related to how wealthy they are, so a family can find that an elite education is either dauntingly expensive or surprisingly affordable. In 2011-12, net prices paid by families with incomes under $48,000 averaged less than $4,000 at Harvard, which has the nation’s largest endowment, for example, and more than $27,000 at New York University, according to data compiled by the Department of Education.

Marx is concerned that poor students go to the NYU website and get scared by the tuition. I, on the other hand, am glad! To a large extent, NYU is a sleazy deal, especially if you are a poor student. The fact that people like Marx won’t even discuss these issues, won’t even mention that not all “fancy colleges” are created equal, makes me angry.

If you are poor, and you get in to Harvard (or Williams), then, obviously, you should go. It is free! But borrowing $100,000 (27k times 4 years plus tuition raises) to attend a “fancy college” like NYU is a very, very dicey proposition. Why doesn’t Marx tell poor students the truth?

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor V

Fifth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

But admissions officers can visit only a small fraction of the nation’s 26,000 high schools, so they rarely see those stellar-but-isolated candidates who need to be encouraged to apply. The top schools that have managed to raise low-income enrollment say that an important factor has been collaborating with some of the nonprofit groups, like QuestBridge and the Posse Foundation, that are devoted to identifying hidden prospects, working with them in high school and connecting them to top colleges.

“stellar-but-isolated?” Give me a break. As we reviewed yesterday, the actual number of such students is de minimus, unless you (absurdly) define “stellar” as 1400 math/reading SAT scores. At Williams, scores like that are defined as “below average” for the class as a whole and “rejection worthy” for any applicant without a special attribute, mainly either black/hispanic or athletic tip.

Consider Questbridge’s own data. They included 4,773 National College Match Finalists last year. (An impressive number. Questbridge has grown into a big organization in the last decade.) But only 18% of those students had SAT scores above 1400.

Still, Questbridge is clearly playing a much larger role in the Williams admissions process. More than 12% (!) of the students admitted in to the class of 2018 were “affiliated” with Questbridge.

Does this mean I am against Questbridge? No! I love Questbridge. Any program that, at reasonable cost, brings Williams high quality applicants, especially applicants that might not have known about Williams before, is a good program. Recall our congratulations to Jonathan Wosen ’13 five years ago. Wosen was (is!) exactly the kind of student that Williams needs more of. He went on to succeed at Williams, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. (And I hope he loved his time at the College as well!) If Questbridge can bring us more applicants like Wosen, then Questbridge is worth the money.

My complaint is with those who claim that there are thousands and thousands of Jonathan Wosens out there, just waiting to be discovered and brought to Williams. There are a few. And we should try to find them. But having admission officers drive around the country to every below average high school would be a huge waste of time. And, lest you accuse me of stone heartedness, keep in mind that Williams makes very few (any?) visits to the 50% of US high schools with student bodies who average below 1,000 on the Math/Reading SAT.

And just a cynical thought on a Friday morning: At what point does Questbridge go from being a moral cause to being a sleazy racket? Back in the day, lots of poor kids applied to Williams and many were accepted . . . and no other organization took a cut of the action. Questbridge, however, now takes a cut, standing as a toll collector between Williams and its applicants. Even if someone would have applied to Williams (and been accepted) in the absence of Questbridge, if they now sign up for the service, then Williams pays Questbridge a bunch of money. (How much is unclear to me, but I vaguely recall a number like $5,000. Does anyone know?)

Again, the more AR 1 applicants who apply (and attend!) Williams, the better, whether they be rich or poor. Admissions has a budget and if Questbridge brings us such students at a reasonable price, then we should pay them. But there is a reason that Harvard doesn’t participate in Questbridge, and it isn’t because they lack the money to do so . . . or an interest in applicants like Jonathan Wosen.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor IV

Fourth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach,” said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. “There has to be a commitment to go out and find them.”

Since when did every college president decide that coolness requires three names? Cappy Hill, or in more formal settings, Catharine Hill, was happily associated with Williams for 20+ years without anyone ever using her middle name. But now we have to include “Bond?” Weird. And Morty Schapiro seemed to do the same for a while, with his regular reminders that his middle name is Owen. Anyway, back to the article . . .


EphBlog loves Cappy Hill ’76 something fierce
, but this is misleading. Hill is implying that there are hundreds (thousands?) of low-income students with Williams-caliber credentials who don’t apply to Williams or places like it because of ignorance. But there aren’t! This is a pleasant fantasy of those who like to believe that parental wealth and student academic achievement are not as correlated as, in fact, they are. Consider the flaws in Hill’s research (pdf):

First, “high ability” is defined as 1420 or above combined math/reading SAT scores. Recall that Williams uses a system of academic ratings (AR) and that ratings below 2 are automatically rejected unless they have some special attribute like race or athletics. From Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis, here are the relevant definitions:

AR 1: “Valedictorian/top or close to top”, A record, “Exceeding most demanding program, evidence of deep intellectual curiosity, passionate interest in particular discipline”, Exceptional, Exceptional, 770–800, 750–800, 1520 — 1600, 750–800, 35–36, mostly 5s

AR 2: Top 5%, Mostly A record, “Most demanding program, many AP and Honors courses, highly significant intellectual curiosity”, Outstanding, Outstanding, 730–770, 720–750, 1450–1520, 720–770, 33-34, 4s and 5s

In other words, lots of the students (SAT 1420 to 1450) that Hill describes as “high ability” are pretty much automatic rejects at Williams (leaving aside whatever affirmative action Williams places on socio-ec diversity). Moreover, lots of the other students with SAT >= 1450 lack the grades and other scores that put them in AR 2. So, Hill is (purposely?) overestimating the pool of potential applicants.

Second, even such high ability applicants are not (meaningfully) under-represented! Hill reports that these high ability, low income students make up 10% of elite schools but 12.8% of the population. Not a big enough difference to get worked up about, I think. And certainly not enough to make me think that the returns to more “outreach” are particularly high.

Third, Hill does not control for the desires of the students. Imagine two students in Georgia, both with Academic Rating 1 (on the Williams scale), both admitted to Williams and to the University of Georgia. Both won free rides at UGA via merit scholarships. One is student is poor and one is rich. I bet that the the poor student is much more likely to choose UGA. This preference, alone, might be enough to explain why poor students are slightly under-represented at elite schools.

Fourth, Hill does not seem to recognize that a poor student, even if as academically accomplished as the rich student, might be better off at an (excellent) state school rather than a (2nd tier?) liberal arts college like Vassar. Leave the details of this debate for another day, but it is indicative of the attitude of people like Hill that they would, in most cases, think that a student choosing UGA over Vassar is making a mistake.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor III

Third installment in our two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

But critics contend that on the whole, elite colleges are too worried about harming their finances and rankings to match their rhetoric about wanting economic diversity with action.

“It’s not clear to me that universities are hungry for that,” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who studies college diversity. “What happens if low-income students start calling the bluff of selective universities, and do start applying in much larger numbers? Will the doors be open?”

Kahlenberg has had a nice career regurgitating the Cathedral’s wisdom and making himself available to New York Times reporters. Unfortunately, he has been very wrong about several important items in his area of (alleged) expertise.

First, his initial claim to fame was to propose affirmative action based on class as a replacement for affirmative action based on race. Alas, he lacked the social science chops to understand that the massive number of poor, but academically successful, Asian Americans meant that, were a place like Williams to use class instead of race, its proportion of African American students would go toward zero very quickly. In fact, for virtually every African American student who enrolls at Williams then are 10 (100? 1000?) or more Asian Americans who come from poorer families but had better high school records.

Second, he edited a whole book decrying legacy admissions without realizing that, among elite schools like Williams, legacy status plays a minimal role in admissions, and that role is diminishing every year. See these posts for details. But the intuition is obvious enough:

In the 80’s, there were 500 academically accomplished students per class. Judging/guessing from what we see at reunions, the total number of children of a typical class is at least 500. But only 75 or so find spots at Williams! Do the other 425 go to Stanford? Nope. And the same harsh mathematics apply to the children of other elite schools. Since smart people have smart children, the pool of legacies that the College has to choose from is very impressive. So, it does not need to meaningfully lower standards to find 75 good ones.

Does Kahlenberg continue his stupidity here? You bet he does! Consider the quote:

What happens if low-income students start calling the bluff of selective universities, and do start applying in much larger numbers?

It all depends on which sort of low-income students we are talking about. If 10,000 poor kids with lousy SAT scores and bad high school grades were to apply to Williams, then Williams would reject them all, just as it rejects thousands of rich kids with poor scores/grades. If lots of poor students with amazing scores/grades started applying, then Williams would accept them, as would other elite colleges.

But the truth, which Kahlenberg either doesn’t know or is too slippery to admit, is that the main issue is poor students with less impressive academic credentials than the non-poor students Williams currently admits/enrolls. If Williams has to choose between poor kids with 1350 SAT scores and rich kids with 1550 (and similar differences in high school grades), then it will (should!) choose the rich kids. If it doesn’t, it won’t be an elite school for long.

No bluff calling is required.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor II

Second installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Getting low-income students onto elite campuses is seen as a vital engine of social mobility.

Yet as Anthony P. Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, put it, “Higher education has become a powerful force for reinforcing advantage and passing it on through generations.”

People like Carnevale don’t seem to think clearly about the empirical claims that they are making. Imagine a perfect world, one without nasty institutions, like Williams, “reinforcing advantage,” a world in which every child is treated exactly the same. Is there correlation between parent and child outcomes in this world?

Of course there is! Consider basketball and height. Tall people have a huge advantage in playing basketball and height is around 70% genetic. So, even in a world in which every child has free basketball lessons from birth, success in basketball — whether measured as relative ability in 8th grade gym class or starting in the NBA — will be passed “on through generations” because of genetics. NBA players will be much more likely to come from families in which parents were in the top 10% of basketball ability because a major component of success is genetic.

In fact, the more that you equalize environment, the greater the relative importance of genes.

In a parallel fashion, the things that make you successful as a high school student — intelligence, hard work and conformity — are the same things that help you to earn a high income. And these traits have a genetic component as well. So, even in a world with perfect equality in terms of child-rearing, parents with high income (meaning, on average, hard-working, intelligent, conformist parents) will have successful students because these traits have a genetic component.

Now, it is certainly the case that parents, and institutions, have an effect beyond their genetics, but by failing to even discuss (or understand?) the genetic component of inherited success, Carnevale and others make it hard to take their claims seriously.

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor I

First installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

Why two weeks? Because my little bother, Stephen Field ’37, thinks this is a topic worth discussing in depth!

As the shaded quadrangles of the nation’s elite campuses stir to life for the start of the academic year, they remain bastions of privilege. Amid promises to admit more poor students, top colleges educate roughly the same percentage of them as they did a generation ago. This is despite the fact that there are many high school seniors from low-income homes with top grades and scores: twice the percentage in the general population as at elite colleges.

First, always begin by asking “What is the New York Times choosing not to write about?” In this context, the answer is: All the other metrics that 18 year-olds (and their families) differ on but which colleges, and the New York Times, don’t care about. For example, I would bet that high school students with parents that served in the military or scored about average on their SATs or currently attend Baptists congregations or are divorced are dramatically less likely than other students to apply to, be accepted by, or attend elite colleges. Does the Cathedral care? No. The Cathedral — elite academia and the prestige press — cares about race and money and gender, and maybe a few other things. Being the son of a divorced Baptist veteran of average intelligence counts for nothing, no matter how few of you there are at Williams.

Second, read the whole article. Note how constricted the range of views are: running from the left to the far left. No one who thinks, as I do — that there is nothing surprising in the under-representation of poor students, that there is little that could plausibly be done about it and that attempts to do anything are just as likely to hurt as to help — is interviewed. Does Perez-Pena know that we are out here? Does he care? Or does he view his job as weaving a cushy cocoon of ignorance for Times readers? You don’t have to agree with, say, Charles Murray or Bryan Caplan, to think that a news article ought to mention that they exist.

Ten to 15 years ago, when some elite colleges got more serious about economic diversity, there was a view that increasing financial aid could turn the dial, but “I think we were a little naïve,” said Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, a former president of Williams College and, like Dr. Hill at Vassar, an economist specializing in the economics of higher education.

Cost remains a barrier, but so does perception, he said, adding, “It’s a psychology and sociology thing, as well as a pricing thing.”

Who is the “we” you speak of Morty? I wasn’t naive. Here is what I was writing 8 years ago:

People who see tilts and other injustices in elite admissions have a highly naive view of the possibilities once a student hits 17. These modern day Marxists have a (stupid) a priori belief that the abilities which lead to academic success at Amherst are uniformly distributed across the population. Alas, these abilities — high IQ, a love of learning, disciplined work habits — are very non-uniformly distributed. The children of people in the top half of the income distribution are much more likely to have these abilities than the children of people in the bottom half. This effect is magnified in the top and bottom income deciles.

Smart people have smart children because intelligence like height is largely inherited. People who love learning have children who love learning because they teach them to do the same, both directly and via example. You can bet that children who are read to by their parents each day are much more likely to end up at Amherst than children who are not so fortunate. Hard-working people have hard-working children because these parents make their children work hard, thereby teaching them the value of hard work, of ambition and striving.

Now, it turns out that high IQ, a love of learning and hard work — for shorthand, let’s call these attributes “merit” — are also correlated with wealth. Or, rather, it is unlikely that someone blessed with these three attributes will end up in the bottom 25% of the income distribution.

But people like Marx seem blind to this reality. They really want to believe that there are thousands of undiscovered gems lying in the bottom income quartile, just waiting for open-minded souls (like Marx) to discover them and, Professor Higgins-like, transform them into polished stones.

Tony Marx was the president of Amherst at the time. He, and other naifs like Morty and Cappy Hill ’76, thought that they could meaningfully increase the percentage of poor students at places like Williams without meaningfully decreasing the quality of the student body. Alas, you can’t.

It isn’t a “psychology and sociology thing”, much less a “pricing thing.” It is a reality thing.

If you are upset that I haven’t provided enough evidence for these claims, have no worries! I have nine more days of posts all queued up . . .

In case it disappears from the web, the entire article is below the break.

Read more

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Watson. Who is the new Jeopardy champion with no sexual organs?

Bzzzzz. Yes! Correct! The IBM Watson named after the founder Thomas J Watson is the first language-friendly, game-playing Artificial Intelligence machine to beat two acknowledged Jeopardy champs at a game requiring understanding of nuance of language, encyclopedic knowledge, and buzzer skills.

The lack of specific sexual identity plus the stirrings of the growing ‘No Cross Species Marriage” movement may slow complete commercialization. However, based on test results and essay questions, college admissions officers are taking a long hard look at these possible candidates, No financial aid and no dorm matching will be a major consideration.

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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.

am1

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.

am2

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.

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Different Move in Dates?

Anyone have background information on this item from College Confidential?

First Gen Program

Why does Williams want us to move in two days earlier? Is that all there is to it? It seems like they want us to “bond” for a day before everybody else gets there… I guess it would be nice to avoid the immense amount of traffic on the 1st. If I decide to not go on the 30th, then how early will I have to arrive on the 1st?

1) Is it true that all first generation (to go to college?) students are invited to move in two days earlier? If so, perhaps a reader could post the invitation in a comment below. We love to capture this history.

2) How long has this been going on? Are other types of students invited to arrive early as well? One subtle point is that, in order to be classified as first generation by Williams, it is not enough to have parents that did not go to college. You must also request financial aid.

3) In 1984, I think that the only students invited to come early were football players. Or perhaps other athletes?

4) Who was invited to come early when you were a freshman? Did the policy work?

5) I think that this is, probably, a bad idea. Treating Williams students differently on the basis of attribute X just encourages other students to do the same. (See previous discussion about racial discrimination in SPS/SSHS.) Why not just hang a scarlet FG around their necks? If you want attribute X to matter less, then ignore it. All the effort during First Days should be devoted to making students think that we are All Ephs First, that, whatever path we followed in coming to Williams, we all start out in the Purple Valley equal in the eyes of the College.

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More Socially Mobile

In “A Report from Williams 2008“, President Schapiro praises a variety of changes at the College, noting that:

Williams students are now. . . [m]ore socially mobile, as more Williams students are the first in their families to attend college.

I e-mailed Morty with some questions, and he kindly replied that the the percentage of first generation students at Williams in the class of 2012 was 21%, a fairly dramatic increase over the 13% in the class of 2008. An 8% change represents about 43 students. So, the College replaced 43 students whose parents went to college with 43 students whose parents did not.

This is either the biggest change in Williams admissions in the past decade or a lot of hype. Unsurprisingly, I think it is a bit of both.

1) If this isn’t the biggest change what is? One option would be the dramatic tightening of admissions standards for athletes. (Overview here. That post and the resulting discussion caused a trustee to, literally, yell at me. The cross that I bear for you loyal readers!) There are about 50 students in each class at Williams today (almost all athletic tips) who would not be here if the old policy were still in place. Instead of having football players who average 1400 on the SATs, we would have different (slightly better) football players who average 1300.

Another option for the biggest change is the increase in international students, rising about 50% in this time period. But the raw number of students is only about 15 more per class.

Given the analysis below, I think that both these changes are more substantively important that the increase in first generation students.

2) Thanks to Morty for providing that data, via the always wonderful Chris Winters ’95, Director of Institutional Research. See the bottom of this post for my e-mail to Morty. I constructed my request (with help from Chris) to be trivial for Williams to answer, should it choose to. Morty’s preference was to provide the two data points above — he feels an affirmative obligation to back up his public claims — but not to answer my more detailed requests. And that’s OK! I would always like the College to be more transparent, but Morty’s chosen level of transparency is a reasonable one.

3) Regular readers will recall that I am suspicious of these sorts of claims, doubtful that the socio-economic status of Williams students today is that much different than that of a decade or more ago. Recall my previous discussion of the data released by Williams to the Senate.

In 1998, the 426th poorest US student at Williams had a family income of around $64,000. In 2008, the 495th poorest US student had a family income of $72,000, which equals $55,000 in 1998 dollars because of inflation. And this ignores the fact that US family income has been rising, so $64,000 in constant dollars is lower relative to the US median family income in 2008 then it was in 1998. I still need to do a full analysis, but there is no evidence that Williams was, to any large extent, less the rich family’s school in 2008 then it was in 1998. “First generation college” is not the same thing as “poor.”

The fact that Morty declines to make the data available to refute that conclusion — data that could be made public at no cost — is, I think, significant.

4) Morty makes no claims about family income in the Report. He uses the number of first generation college students as the metric. Key here is the precise definition of “first generation.” For Williams, this variable is measured using the “Socio-Ec 1″ tag that admissions officers apply to applications. See here for extensive discussion. Chris Winters confirms that a) This tag, called “SEC1″ by the cognoscenti, is a) Assigned by the Admissions Office, b) requires that neither parent have a BA (although they may have attended college and/or have an associate degree), and c) requires that the student check the box for requesting financial aid.

All those are key points. Consider the confusion in this thread on College Confidential. No one seems to know that you won’t be considered first generation at Williams unless you check the financial aid box.

Note how the College is defining mobility downward. Back in the day, the phrase “first in their families to attend college” meant, you know, being the first person in your family to attend college. If your Dad went to Harvard for a year and dropped out, you were not first generation. Now, you are. Also, why the hate against associate degrees? If someone graduates from high school, goes to college for two years, and completes an Associates degree, isn’t she a college graduate? Of course, she is. Moreover, the concept of first generation college used to imply poor. Now, it does not. Even if your family makes $100,000 or more, Williams will still label you as SEC1, as long as you check the financial aid box.

All of this makes Williams sound much more diverse in terms of student background then it actually is. Williams can label 21% of the students in the class of 2012 as “first in their families to attend college,” but the reality of their backgrounds does not match with the picture that the phrase generates in the heads of Morty’s intended audience. Consider a student whose mom is a nurse and whose dad is a loan officer in the local bank. Both have associate degrees. The family income is $150,000. They live in a nice suburb. Is that the sort of family that you think of when Morty says, “first in their families to attend college?”

5) it is tough to get a sense of the other changes that may have influenced this increase. The Common Data Set reveals that there were 46 international students in the class of 2012, compared to 31 in the class of 2008. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan of this increase. Kudos to Morty!) Many/most (all?) of these international students will be classified of SEC1. So, the 43 student increase in SEC1 is at least partly driven by the increase in international students. Morty declined to break the SEC1 data down by nationality.

Also, it is hard to be sure that the definition of SEC1 has stayed constant, either in description or in application. Recall this discussion from Lindsay Taylor’s ’05 thesis.

The Director of Admissions, Richard Nesbitt, stated that the definitions [for SEC1 and SEC2] are not always a perfect fit, and in those cases the admissions committee votes on whether or not to apply the attribute.

Hmmm. I am not implying malfeasance on the part of anyone in Admissions. Yet we all feel compelled to give the boss what he wants. Morty wants more SEC1 kids. Let’s give it to him! An individual admissions officer (especially one who is likes applicant X for other attributes) will certainly have every incentive to classify him as SEC1. And the committee as a whole will hardly lack for reasons for classifying those students who are not a “perfect fit” as SEC1. What’s the downside? The more SEC1s that Morty sees, the happier he is. Maybe we won’t have to make so many trips to lousy high schools next year?

Consider the numbers from 2002, the last year that Taylor uses. There were 537 students in the class, there were 79 SEC1 and 17 SEC2. (SEC2 allows one or more parent to have a BA degree but insists that parents are in low-wage occupations.) Either way, that is not so different from the 2008 data that Morty cites. In fact, it is better (15% versus 13%) then the results for 2008. Did Morty spend his first few years at Williams driving down the percentage of SEC1s? That seems unlikely.

6) See this discussion for my thoughts on whether or not increasing the number of SEC1 students should be a high priority.

7) A 43 student increase may not seem like that much, but keep in mind the other categories for admissions. Williams probably did not achieve this increase by getting many more SEC1 tips, SEC1 under-represented minorities or (obviously) SEC1 legacies. So, the denominator to use in measuring the increase is not the 540 students in the class. It is the 300 or so students that are not tips, urms or legacies. That is a 14% increase.

8) I bet that the increase in SEC1 is connected to the increase in Asian American students (49 to 64) over the same time period. The standard result in the literature is that any movement toward class-based affirmative action overwhelmingly benefits Asian-Americans because there are a lot of high quality (scores and grades) applicants from non-rich families, especially immigrants.

My position: Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.

My e-mail to Morty:

Morty,

Hope all is well. I enjoyed reading your article in “A Report from
Williams 2008.” You mentioned that Williams is: “More socially mobile,
as more Williams students are the first in their families to attend
college.” I have two requests:

1) Would you allow me to see some of the data underlying that claim?

2) Would you allow me to share that data with the wider community? (I
realize that you have better things to do than read EphBlog, but it
turns out that there hundreds of students, alumni and parents who are
interested in these sorts of issues.

I discussed this with Chris Winters (cc’d above) and he indicated that
a) He needed your permission to release the info and b) Gave me advice
on how to structure my request so that it would require the minimum of
his time. (Last thing I want to do is waste Chris’s time.)

I have put the precise request below the break. My hope is that you
will just hit “Reply All” and say “Of course!” And, with any luck, the
resulting conversation will remind you of the discussions we had in
ECON 401 more than 20 years ago.

Regards,

Dave Kane ’88

———————————
Data Request:

1) For the last 6 years, how many “Socio-Ec 1″ tagged students (SEC1)
have enrolled at Williams, broken down into domestic versus
international?

2) For the last 6 years, what is the family income 400th (or choose
another level if you like) poorest US student over the last decade?
(This is just a different way of looking at the percentile data that
the College provided in the letter to the Senate. It avoids the
problem of the increasing N of students in financial aid.) In other
words, rank (in increasing order) the family income of all US students
seeking financial aid in a given year and provide the family income of
#400 on that list.

I realize that the College does not give precise track of how many
students are “first generation,” and that even this terminology is not
very well defined, but I think that these two data point will get to
the heart of the issue of social mobility.

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Newest Questbridge Ephs

Congratulations to these Ephs from the class of 2013, admitted early decision via the Questbridge program.

Claudia Corona Los Angeles, CA
Kelsey Gaetjens Lihue, HI
Maria Galvez Chicago, IL
Ivory Goudy Decatur, GA
Christopher Hikel Fryeburg, ME
Sarai Infante Bronx, NY
Christopher Simmons Los Angeles, CA
Ginette Sims Westminster, CA
Kwan Tang Brooklyn, NY
Carly Valenzuela Bermuda Dunes, CA
Laura Villafranco Jarrell, TX
Jonathan Wosen San Diego, CA

Gaetjens, Galvez and Wosen were awarded Tyngs.

Congratulations to all!

Questbridge provides background on some of the winners, but I couldn’t figure out how to link directly. So, below, are those descriptions. They seem to be written by the students themselves.
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Socio-ec Tags

The October 22 Record featured a section on numbers associated with the class of 2012. (Alas, that section does not seem to be on-line.) Much of the material is what you might expect (number of applications, percent acceptances and so on). But some of the items are strange. Does 1/2 the class really come from New York? Are there really 100 students from “outside the US?” (How can that be if only 40 or so students are non-US citizens?)

But the strangest claim is that the number of “first-generation college students” in the Class of 2012 is 264. Does that even pass the smell test? A normal person would interpret the phrase first-generation college student to mean, at least, that your Dad and Mom did not, you know, actually go to college. But for how many students can this possibly be true? Think back to your own entry. Did half your peers really come from families with no college graduates? Hah! There is some chance that the Record made a mistake or that there is some miscommunication with Admissions. I certainly hope that no one is purposely misleading the Williams community. Details and an overview of socio-ec admissions below.
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Exceptional Kids

Ronit’s comments on this admissions thread merit further discussion. Read the original post for context.

[Amherst President Tony] Marx could easily achieve his goal of greater equality by admitting fewer athletic tips from privileged prep schools, and fewer legacies, and giving a few of these slots to exceptional kids from the inner city.

First, many/most tips are not from “privileged prep schools.” In fact, football players tend to come from families with below average income (for Williams/Amherst as a whole). Second, it is true that if Amherst got rid of its 66 tips, it could replace them with 66 “poor” students with better academic rankings than the tips they replaced. Amherst teams would then lose most (60%? 80%?) of their games. Now, I suspect that Ronit and I are in agreement that, from the current status quo, Williams/Amherst should place less emphasis on athletics, but that is not the debate we are having today. Marx has never proposed cutting the number of tips.

Third, as I have demonstrated ad nauseum, legacies are a red herring in this debate. Even if you put zero weight on legacy status, the vast majority of legacy students who are at Williams today would still have been admitted. Fourth, if this debate were really about “exceptional kids from the inner city,” then you might have a point. But most of the “poor” students that Marx is admitting do not come from the “inner city” and almost none of them attend lousy inner city high schools. And just how “exceptional” are they?

Consider Ashley Armato.

But financial aid alone isn’t enough to boost low-income enrollments, many colleges have found. Amherst has hired more admissions staff to do outreach, and it pays for several hundred low-income students a year to visit campus. It also works with nonprofit groups such as QuestBridge, which identifies talented applicants from low-income backgrounds.

Current Amherst students from low-income backgrounds can earn their work-study money by mentoring high school counterparts through the college-application and financial-aid process, whether or not they want to apply to Amherst.

Ashley Armato worked as a mentor as a student at Amherst, where she recently graduated and started a one-year job in the admissions office.

I would not use Armato as an example if she were a pre-frosh, but since she is a college graduate (albeit Amherst) , I hope that few will be offended by using her to make the issue more concrete. (And I have no idea what her academic credentials were.) Ronit thinks that this is an argument about “exceptional kids from the inner city.” If that were true, if Amherst were accepting low-income students with 1350 SATs from (lousy) inner city high schools in place of students with 1500 SATs from Choate, that would be one thing. For Ronit’s case to be plausible, someone like Armato should come from a family with low income (bottom 10%? certainly bottom 25%) and go to a bad high school. But, even before I looked, I doubted that this described Armato. And, sure enough, it doesn’t.

As the daughter of a firefighter and a maid, neither of whom went to college, she understood the challenges facing those she mentored. Students often started off assuming they could afford only community colleges, but she was able to explain financial aid and help them expand their options. She also reassured a lot of parents, sometimes speaking with them in Spanish.

Does the daughter of a firefighter and a maid count as poor? Does someone who attended Mount Sinai High School suffer from a below-average high school education? No! After five years, NYC firefighters make $86,518. Mount Sinai is a fine public high school, with a full complement of AP courses.

Again, for all I know Armato was an AR 1. If so, she would have gotten in (probably) even if her father were an investment banker and she went to Exeter. Yet the whole point of Marx’s proposal is to give an extra advantage to applicants like Armato. The key is that Ronit describes this as letting in “exceptional kids from the inner city.” That’s not what the program actually does. Don’t believe me? Believe Amherst.

Bringing in more low-income kids would require added compromise. To meet Marx’s 25% goal, Amherst would have to take more threes [on a 1-7 scale], says Parker, meaning those who may have straight As but SATs as low as 1360. Even though Amherst already does so for minorities, legacies, and athletes, faculty members are worried. “This could be a radical departure that fundamentally changes the character of our institution,” warns physics professor David Hall, who heads the Faculty Committee on Admissions & Financial Aid.

Again, if we are talking about a kid in a lousy high school and from a family making in the bottom 25% of the income distribution, then there is certainly an argument for admitting her and rejecting the investment banker’s daughter from Milton with 1500 (and better grades). Yet Amherst (and Williams) already does that. But that advantage does not produce enough, in Marx’s opinion, poor families. So, he wants to give similar advantages to students from families with above average incomes who attend top quartile high schools.

Had enough? I haven’t even gotten started!
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Academic Credentials

I am drawn to the article on Amherst President Marx like a rugger to beer.

The centerpiece of Marx’s crusade is to change what happens in the converted 19th century farmhouse where Amherst’s 14 admissions officers work. Marx is convinced that the process is stacked against poor kids. But changing that threatens the entire admissions rationale of elite colleges. The key issue: how much to lower academic credentials. Amherst got to No. 2 in the rankings in part because of its incoming students’ stellar grades and test scores. Those factors are just one part of college rankings, so Amherst might slip only a few spots if other selective colleges don’t follow its lead. Still, that could hurt. “If Marx lets in more low-income kids, he’s going to risk his school’s reputation,” cautions Anthony Carnevale, a senior fellow at the National Center on Education & the Economy.

Letting in smart low-income kids does nothing to Amherst’s reputation (except to improve it). Letting in not-so-smart low-income kids has the potential to be devastating to that reputation.

Bringing in more low-income kids would require added compromise. To meet Marx’s 25% goal, Amherst would have to take more threes [on a 1-7 scale], says Parker, meaning those who may have straight As but SATs as low as 1360. Even though Amherst already does so for minorities, legacies, and athletes, faculty members are worried. “This could be a radical departure that fundamentally changes the character of our institution,” warns physics professor David Hall, who heads the Faculty Committee on Admissions & Financial Aid.

Hall is right to be worried. If you think that, on average students with 1360 SATs do as well as though with 1560s, then you don’t know what you are talking about. People like Marx like to tell stories about specific students who come to Amherst with low scores and then thrive, winning academic awards, writing excellent theses, being named to Phi Beta Kappa. And such stories are certainly true. But they do not represent the average result. In fact, the typical academic performance of 3s is certainly worse than that for 1s, even during senior year (by which time any disadvantage in terms of preparation should have been alleviated).

The only way to meaningfully increase the percentage of students from the bottom quarter of the income distribution is to admit a bunch of applicants that you currently reject, applicants that are not as academically talented/focused as your other students.

Marx hopes to ease such concerns by finding more top-notch low-income applicants. Certainly, many students have never even heard of Amherst. So Marx is asking his admissions officers to visit more low-income high schools. And he’s enlisting Amherst students in a tele-mentoring program in which they walk seniors from those schools through the college application process. Marx also started using QuestBridge, a Palo Alto (Calif.) nonprofit that has enlisted 8,000 high school teachers to identify talented low-income students for elite colleges.

More delusions! But, of course, it depends on what you mean by “top-notch.” There are thousands of low income students with, say, 1250 SATs and high school grades to match who would love to come to Amherst, especially for free. Let them all in and Amherst will be a different place.

Although the competition for talented low income students is not as tough as that for URMs or helmet sport athletes, it is getting there. Does Marx really think that more visits to bad high schools are going to help? Amherst (and Williams) might be able to accomplish something on the margin, convincing a smart low income kid that she is better off at an LAC than at an Ivy. But the tyranny of numbers remains. There are just not enough low income applicants to go around, just as there are not enough URMs and hockey players. Amherst might be able to steal a couple from its competitors, but not enough to meaningfully change the overall distribution.

Unless, that is, Marx succeeds in changing the admissions criteria in use. If I were a Amherst faculty member, I would be worried.

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Thumb on the Scale

The article on Amherst President Marx does a good job of illustrating how radical he really is.

Since Marx, now 46, took over in 2003 as Amherst’s youngest president ever, he has waged a ceaseless crusade to make the college a leader in welcoming more lower-income students.

We are all in favor of making Amherst (and Williams) more welcoming, for rich and poor, dark purple and light purple, foreign and domestic. Yet Marx is after much more.

It’s a formidable goal considering how programmed the place is to seek out the best and the brightest: A record 6,300 students applied for just 431 spots in last fall’s entering class.

Jarring, eh? Why does a commitment for seeking out “the best and the brightest” create problems in creating a “welcoming” environment? If anything, the opposite is the case. If you have clear and objective criteria, applied to all applicants, for academic talent, then everyone should feel equal precisely because everyone is equal. Problems arise, of course, when different standards apply to different groups.

Now, Marx is challenging everything from an admissions process tilted toward affluent students to social customs that divide rich and poor students on campus. Essentially, he has set in motion a new affirmative action initiative, this time based on class rather than race.

Good luck with that! Again, I think that this is the best news for Williams in its competition with Amherst in a generation. Give them the less smart (but “poorer”) applicants. We’ll take the smarter (but “richer”) applicants. No prizes for guessing how this will turn out in a generation or two.

And what does it mean to claim that the admissions process is “tilted toward affluent students?” I don’t think it is. Does Amherst Director of Admissions Tom Parker ’69 discriminate against poor kids? Penalize them if they apply for financial aid? Decrease their academic rank if they go to a lousy public high school?

No! People who see tilts and other injustices in elite admissions have a highly naive view of the possibilities once a student hits 17. These modern day Marxists have a (stupid) a priori belief that the abilities which lead to academic success at Amherst are uniformly distributed across the population. Alas, these abilities — high IQ, a love of learning, disciplined work habits — are very non-uniformly distributed. The children of people in the top half of the income distribution are much more likely to have these abilities than the children of people in the bottom half. This effect is magnified in the top and bottom income deciles.

Smart people have smart children because intelligence like height is largely inherited. People who love learning have children who love learning because they teach them to do the same, both directly and via example. You can bet that children who are read to by their parents each day are much more likely to end up at Amherst than children who are not so fortunate. Hard-working people have hard-working children because these parents make their children work hard, thereby teaching them the value of hard work, of ambition and striving.

Now, it turns out that high IQ, a love of learning and hard work — for shorthand, let’s call these attributes “merit” — are also correlated with wealth. Or, rather, it is unlikely that someone blessed with these three attributes will end up in the bottom 25% of the income distribution.

But people like Marx seem blind to this reality. They really want to believe that there are thousands of undiscovered gems lying in the bottom income quartile, just waiting for open-minded souls (like Marx) to discover them and, Professor Higgins-like, transform them into polished stones.

Marx already has won over many of Amherst’s largely liberal professors to the basic concept. He’s hoping that by the fall, faculty and trustees will approve a formal plan to give more of Amherst’s coveted slots, perhaps as many as 25%, to students poor enough to qualify for a Pell Grant (usually meaning a family income of less than $40,000 a year). Doing so would vault Amherst far ahead of other elite privates such as Harvard University, where 10% of undergrads are low-income. “If we are sufficiently aggressive, we will force the rest of elite higher education to be much more serious about this,” says Marx.

Delusional! There is no way that Amherst, just by letting in a group of students that it used to reject — and who used to, after rejection, go to perfectly nice albeit less competitive colleges — is going to “force” Harvard or Williams to do anything. Newsflash: As long as the students who Harvard and Williams want still go to Harvard and Williams, they won’t care what Amherst does.

Now, Amherst could change the game by being much more generous in terms of financial (read: merit) aid. For example, it could create something like the Tyng and use it to convince 50 poor students who would have gone to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford to choose Amherst instead. (Even though such students get full rides at HYPS, the allure of free graduate school would have an appeal.) If Amherst did that, HYPS might be forced to respond. Yet that is not the (public) plan

Bowen, who now heads the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a big funder of higher-education research, is on a crusade to win over admissions officers with statistics showing that low-income students succeed at elite colleges. “America’s most selective institutions need to put a thumb on the scale” in favor of these students, Bowen argues.

Consider the case of two students, Jane and Sarah, who attend the same high school. Both have fathers that make $40,000 a year. But one (Jane) is smarter, works harder, gets better grades and test scores than the other. Shouldn’t Jane be accepted into Amherst in preference to Sarah? Currently, she presumably is. But what if Jane has a mother who also teaches high school while Sarah’s mother is a home-maker. Since this extra income puts Jane’s family outside of Pell-grant range, should Amherst accept Sarah instead?

The only way to meaningful increase the percentage of students from the bottom 40% of the income distribution is to accept more Sarah’s and reject more Jane’s. I am almost glad that Amherst is apparently about to start doing so. It makes it all the more likely that Jane will become an Eph.

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Marxism

Fascinating, must-read article on Tony Marx’s campaign to remake Amherst. (Hat tip to an anonymous Eph parent.)

When Marx finally met the [presidential search] committee, he made an impassioned appeal. Elite U.S. colleges such as Amherst, he said, are perpetuating deep inequalities in American society. They equate success with serving the privileged elite and have largely abandoned talented youth from poor families, he charged. This deepens the country’s growing class divisions and exacerbates the long-term decline in economic and social mobility. Feeling he had nothing to lose since he hadn’t sought the job, Marx exhorted the trustees to tackle the problem head-on. “I’m not interested in being a custodian over a privileged place,” he remembers telling the gathering of wealthy alums and academic stars that day.

There are lots of amazing details here. More later. In the meantime:

1) Whenever I get frustrated with Morty, I should just step back and thank my lucky aim-high stars that we are not stuck with Marx. He would drive me nuts.

2) Does this mark the start of the downfall of Amherst? 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. (Actually, the story is more complex than that, but let’s save it for another day.) This may or may not be moral. It may or may not improve the quality of the education at Amherst. But it seems inevitable that it will reduce Amherst’s ranking, at US News and elsewhere. Right now, Williams and Amherst split 50/50 in head-to-head competition over students. I would predict that if Amherst’s academic selectivity goes down far enough, Williams’ winning percentage will increase.

If, in a decade, Williams worries as much about competition from Amherst as it does today about competition from Wesleyan, the reason will certainly be Anthony Marx’s egalitarian notions of merit and higher education.

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