December 14, 2015

HOW TO FIX COLLEGE ADMISSIONS: Instead of litigating affirmative action, simply hold a lottery for all qualified applicants.

In its simplest version, the process would work like this. The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. Extracurricular achievements could be considered. For example, there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport. The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.

Suppose the checklist contained ten criteria. Applicants who satisfied, say, six of them would be entered into a lottery for admission. Universities would then draw an appropriate number of admits. The whole exercise would take about two seconds.

In addition to its appealing transparency, a lottery would be extremely cheap. Under this plan, universities wouldn’t have to maintain a large and highly paid admissions office. All they’d need would be a good website on which applicants could enter their information and a few IT workers to manage the database.

A lottery would also relieve stress on applicants and their parents. Rather than driving themselves nuts pursuing all possible achievements, high school students could concentrate on doing well in their strongest subjects or activities.

Critics might argue a lottery would reduce academic quality. But there’s no reason to think students taken at random from a qualified pool would be worse than those selected in head-to-head comparisons. In fact, Harvard already attracts applications from more valedictorians than it can accept.

I’ve made a similar suggestion myself, noting that a lottery would also remedy the Ivy League’s documented racial discrimination against Asian students.

Which means that if you oppose this plan, you’re a racist.

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