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Admissions Scandals Have Always Been Rigged

April 2, 2019

April 2, 2019

Recent admissions scandals prove the education system is still rigged against Black students…and it’s not too late to do something about it.

In mid-March, The New York Times reported that only seven of the 895 slots offered to incoming students at the highly competitive and elite Stuyvesant High School in New York City went to Black youth. In the year prior, a paltry 10 Black students were admitted to the school often cited as one of the best public high schools in the nation. For the year 2017, enrollment figures show that 75% of students at Stuyvesant were Asian and 18% identified as white. These numbers come despite a pledge last year from New York City Mayor, Bill DeBlasio, vowing to diversify the city’s few elite public schools.

Despite Brown v. Board of Education which declared segregation in public schools illegal in addition to recent revelations confirming that competitive institutions like Harvard at least partially use race as a factor in admissions, the numbers remain gloomy for most Black children at the nation’s top institutions – especially when factoring in one of the original forms of affirmative action – legacy preference.

…the education system is still rigged against Black students…”

For the classes, 2014 through 2019, Harvard admitted five times as many legacy students as non-legacy applicants. For this same group, 21.5% of the legacy applicants were white compared to 4.79% who were Black. These numbers are a slap in the face for Harvard officials who profess a commitment to increasing diversity.

More broadly, between 1995 and 2009, 82% of white freshmen were at the 468 most selective four-year colleges, compared to only 13% of Hispanics and 9% of Black freshmen. This means that whites are significantly overrepresented at the nation’s top schools leaving little room for Black students equally as qualified. These discrepancies exist even among students with similar academic profiles. Between students who score in the top percentiles on college entrance tests like the ACT and SAT, Black and white test takers attend college at the same rate dispelling the myth that Black students place less value in education than their peers.

Couple this news with recent revelations that wealthy, mostly white, CEOs, Hollywood actresses, and other prominent figures, have been buying their kids way into top colleges like USC and Georgetown, and you begin to realize just how far the tentacles of broken system reach in the world of elite education.

This is the data. This is the system.

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So how do we start to dismantle the broken process that caters to the white and wealthy while disenfranchising our Black youth?

  • Elite universities like Harvard and Princeton can start by getting rid of legacy preference for applicants. Nothing normalizes inequity like giving an advantage to the very groups that don’t need one. In a survey of the Class of 2022, more than a third of students with at least one parent who attended Harvard said they come from a family with a combined income of $500,000 or more, though the median household income in America is only $57,652. Surely, the families of legacy students can afford the resources, tutoring, and college prep their children need to get into Harvard without also needing a legacy preference to guarantee their spot.
  • Admissions departments at elite schools, even public ones like Stuyvesant, can also place less emphasis on test scores. Reliance on the SAT, ACT, and other test scores unfairly benefit the white and/or wealthy who can afford tutoring and test prep outside of the classroom. And no, that doesn’t mean admissions standards should be lowered. Instead, colleges should place more weight on traits that indicate character like overcoming adversity, participation in leadership activities, cultural competence, and service to the community. By the way, of the CEOs of the top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500, only one went to an Ivy League School – Jeff Bezos, who graduated from Princeton.

  • As Black parents, we can also keep demanding that our kids in majority-minority schools get the resources they need to be competitive in the college admissions process. It’s past time for the government to start putting tangible resources behind the work it takes to close the very real educational opportunity gaps that prevent Black students from reaching the highest tiers of education. We can hold politicians accountable and demand that our governments provide the holistic, multi-tiered resources students of color, who have been unfairly burdened by socioeconomic oppression, need. We can also commit to voting for candidates who promise to fund and implement measures that have been shown effective in helping the neediest students, like Pre-K programs, STEM education, and paying teachers a fair wage.

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Joy Turner

Private Admissions Coach

Joy is a first-generation college graduate, private admissions coach, and current blogger writing about how to make access to college more equitable, especially for Black students. After graduating from West Point, she served in the U.S. Army for six years before getting a graduate degree from the UW in Public Policy. To reach more aspiring students, Joy founded Koodoos – a website and blog which offers expert advice, tips, and strategies to help demystify the craziness of the college admissions process. You can follow her on Twitter at @joy_g_turner.

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