Increase Ivy League Capacity

There have been a number of articles of late about college admissions and Asians.  For example, my alma mater Princeton is getting sued by a young man who says the school's admissions standards are discriminatory against Asians  (he was forced to go to Yale instead, which in my mind represents substantial pain and suffering).  David Bernstein at Volokh also had this:

Liming Luo is a high school senior who is both a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs.  New York Magazine
asked Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions
consulting company, about her [and other students'] prospects for
admission to MIT, the college of her choice. The answer:

Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket.
She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing
against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she's a shoo-in"”I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community.

I don't know enough to comment on the Asian issues, but I wanted to make a couple of other points.  First, Bernstein is probably correct in wondering why there is such a focus on "giving back to the community" for an 18-year old girl who appears to be a math genius.  But his question is naive.  I can say from experience that everything on an application for college may be negotiable (e.g. good athletics allows for lower SAT scores) except for community service.  That has become inviolable.  Every college prep school I know have elaborate programs nowadays to make sure their kids get lots of community service hours.  My son, at the age of eleven, missed on his first shot at National Junior Honor Society because he only had about 20 hours of community service.  I can tell you that for college-bound high school kids, community service is longer about volunteering and giving back but about grimly checking off one of the most important boxes for college applications.

My other thought is that you don't have to be Asian to worry nowadays that near-perfect SAT's and grades are not enough to get one into the Ivy League.  As you can see here, placing in the 99th percentile on SAT's only gives one a 1 in 5 shot at getting in to Princeton.  The other thing you can see is that top Ivy's are being honest when they say they want more than just good grades -- you can see at Princeton and Harvard that moving from 91st to 99th percentile on SAT's does little to improve a person's prospect of getting in.  (On the Asian discrimination issue, that means that more than half of the kids in the top 1 percentile of SAT's will get turned down by Princeton, and some of these will be Asians.  Whether that is discrimination or just brutally tough admissions is hard to say).

Which leads me to my main point -- the Ivy League needs to find a way to increase capacity.  The number of kids that are "ivy-ready" has exploded over the last decades, but the class sizes at Ivy schools have remained flat.    For years I have been campaigning at Princeton for this, and I am happy to see they are increasing the class size, but only by a small amount.  Princeton has an endowment larger than the GNP of most countries.  To date, it has spent that money both well and poorly.  Well, because Princeton is one of just a handful of schools that guarantee that if you get in, they will make sure you can pay for it, and they do it with grants, leaving every student debt free at graduation.  Poorly, because they have been overly focused on increasingly what I call the "educational intensity" or the amount of physical plant and equipment and stuff per student.  In this latter case, we have got to be near the limit of spending an incremental $10 million to increase the education quality by .01%.  We should instead be looking for ways to offer this very high quality of education to more people, since so many more are qualified today.

By the way, one of the reasons Ivy League schools don't take my advice is because of the faculty.  The very first thing that the faculty wants is more endowed chairs, more equipment, more office space, etc.  The very last thing most faculty wants is more students that would force them to actually teach more rather than publish and do research.

Postscript:  OK, I will make one comment about the Asian kids thing.  I don't know if what Ivy admissions offices are doing is discriminatory or not.  But I do know that among the white parents of college-bound high school students that I know, there is real undercurrent of anti-Asian resentment.  I can't tell you how often I hear stuff like "Oh of course he does well, he's Asian" or "I don't know if my kid can get into X, all the Asian kids get the spots."  Its a strange, resentful sort of racism I see all the time from parents who would never be caught dead uttering anything untoward about blacks.  There is this funny feeling I get in some of these conversations that it's OK to dislike Asians in a way that would never be perceived as OK for blacks.


  • tom sherman

    I have another solution: Don't go to Ivy League schools. The Ivy League is much more about the name on the diploma than a quality, interactive undergrad education. The 92%-with-honors Harvard "scandal" is proof of that.

    I went to Northwestern and have a hard time believing that Harvard's TA's could have taught me better.

  • Zoran Lazarevic

    Ivy League schools are not in the business of providing education, but in the business of selecting applicants. Students who were admitted to an Ivy League school but chose to go to a state college instead, ended up earning the same amount as their peers who went to an Ivy League school (I am too lazy to Google the study right now). In other words, the school did not give anything to the applicant that he/she would not have had achieved anyway.

    Princeton and Harward are in the business of selecting and grooming future country presidents and fortune 500 CEOs. There is still only one president, and still only 500 Fortune 500 CEOs -- the same number as 50 years ago. These schools have no interest in watering down their student body to Fortune 1000 CEOs and state assemblymen.

    It is very noble that you want to spread the education to wider masses. But there is not much that an Ivy school can spread out that students can't get from other schools and other sources. Ivy League schools owe their reputation to picking future presidents, not for providing mystic secrets of science that you can't get anywhere else.

  • ElamBend

    Okay, I went to Yale. The selection process does lead to a student body that is perhaps the schools greatest asset. Even my slacker-est friends were motivated. Can you get just as good and education at state school, yes, particularly at high-fliers like Michigan and Berkley. However, you don't get near the motivated student body. This has a tremendous effect upon a student while in school, plus the effect continues well past graduation. Meeting up with my classmates continues to be extremely enspiring. My girlfriend, who is an immigrant, started in community college and now as moved on to DePaul says seeing me and other Ivy, or Ivy-type students mingle, it's like a mafia. The expectations among your peers starts high and stays there, but it's less competitive and more colaborative, and learning never ends. This is just among the middle-of-the-road students that are my friends.

    As for the teaching, TAs and professors. Top notch.

    The Ivies aren't the only schools like this, though, they just have it down best. Tom's alma mater Northwestern is a similar school, not to mention Stanford. It's clear, though we need more schools of that caliber, though. I look to existing schools in the south and west to grow into this niche. Or perhaps a latter-day Leland Stanford will start one.

  • O. Room

    Cornell has historically promoted minorities because half the school is Public; Affimative Action regulations means not hitting targets, Fed and State money is jeopardized and will hurt the State part of the school. Asians are tossed into the bucket for Affirmative Action quotas, but Cornell makes sure that admission points (SATs & GREs) have at least 50 points More as an average... to get admitted. That way, Asians don't "overwhelm" the population of enrolled students. It's an effective way to suppress Asian admission, and make sure Asian student numbers are small for enrollment. Nice thing is that the university is now rapidly trying to show a Reverse policy to appear "open minded" to capture the Asia bandwagon where explosive growth is in India and China. All varieties of joint research ventures, collaborative projects/publications, scholar exchanges with China are suddenly a Top Agenda. The reality is that Asians "know" racism when it is observed; preferences are 100% towards Black Americans, Lations.. it is crystal clear. Some are well-qualified, no doubt. But, the University Administration Refused to share with the Black American students what their attrition rate was. (Hmmmm!) So much for backpedalling for China India money, and joint ventures for "exchanges."