Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why Rich White Parents Pay Bribes To Get Their Children Admitted To Elite Universities

Elite universities have gone overboard in reducing White admissions to expand those of People of Color and international applicants.

When the data for the top 20 national universities and top 10 liberal arts colleges become available at the end of March, I’ll post the percentages of admissions by race and ethnicity and compare them with the national percentages of the United States.  Some schools provide only partial or no information on the racial/ethnic composition of their admissions.

In this post I’ll describe the transformation of my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).  The story is similar for about half of the top 20 universities. 

I attended WUSTL during 1958-1962.  In 1958, the school was a “streetcar college.”  Only about 10% of the students were campus residents; the other 90% commuted to class.  People of Color were few and far between.  I do not recall seeing a single Black or Hispanic in my three years in Engineering school.

During my undergraduate years, WUSTL embarked on a dorm building program to broaden its student body.  Within several decades, it developed into a regional university for the Midwest, with students coming from states between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains.  Several decades later, it became a national university, competing for a national ranking in the teens, right after the Ivies, MIT, and Stanford.  It also established cooperative agreements with universities around the world in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

During 1960-2020, the United States underwent a steady demographic change.  White residents declined in successive decades from 85% of the U.S. population in 1960, to 84%, 80%, 76%, 69%, 64%, to an estimated 60% in 2020.

Let’s compare national racial/ethnic percentages with WUSTL admissions for the class of 2023.

                  White      Asian    Black   Hispanic    Misc     Intern’l

USA              60%          6          13          19           3

WUSTL         39%         20          15          13           5            8

Two numbers stand out.  One is the huge under-admission of Whites relative to their share of the national population.  The other is the over-admission of Asians.

There may be several reasons for these disparities.  First, WUSTL may be trying to avoid getting caught in the Harvard problem, which is being sued for a purported quota on Asian applicants.  Second, Asians are counted as “People of Color,” which dramatically enhances Diversity among admitted undergraduate students.

Two other factors reduce available slots for middle- and upper-middle-income White applicants.  Every elite university has embarked on a campaign to enroll first-generation low-income (FLI) students, some of whom are White.  Also, filling out athletic teams (swimming and diving, tennis, water polo, etc.) consumes White slots.  Some athletes may be top students, but some are not.  Although WUSTL is a Division III school, it still needs to fill out its intercollegiate sports teams with good athletes to be competitive in its conference.

These factors leave fewer slots for non-athletic upper-middle-class Whites.  No wonder some White parents take desperate measures to get a slot.

To present an image of greater fairness in admissions, six of the top 10 universities have announced that they will no longer give preference to legacies (family members who attended the specific university) and some have declared that donors will no longer receive preference for their children.

N’est-ce pas?  Maybe so, maybe not.  University officials will doubtless claim that privacy precludes disclosing the names of donors whose children have been accepted or rejected for admission.  Universities are all for accountability and transparency, but not when their gifts are at stake.  University faculty are quick to denounce inequality, except when it refers to their own top-ranked school.

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