“There is a widespread perception that college admission as currently constituted privileges the already privileged.”
By Jim Jump
Is admission by lottery the cure to all that ails the college admissions process? That notion rears its head every few years, and I have been (more than once) among the voices writing about that topic. My very first published article about college admission, in fact, was a 1988 back-page essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education that argued that random selection is the fairest way to allocate scarce slots at highly selective colleges.
A new study in the journal Educational Researcher questions whether admissions lotteries would be the panacea advocates envision. The article, “What If We Leave It Up to Chance? Admissions Lotteries and Equitable Access at Selective Colleges,” was co-authored by Dominique Baker, a professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University, and Michael Bastedo, a professor of education at the University of Michigan.
The major takeaway from Baker and Bastedo’s research is that the use of random selection in choosing whom to admit may not result in a more fair or equitable process. They ran 1,000 simulations on two cohorts of students, 1,400 ninth graders from the 2009 High School Longitudinal Study and 1,275 tenth graders from the 2002 Educational Longitudinal Study. They used grade point average and SAT score thresholds to predict admission by lottery to either selective or moderately selective institutions (based on Barron’s selectivity categories in place at the time of each study).
Baker and Bastedo conclude that the lottery approach would negatively impact the enrollment of several groups of applicants. Lotteries using middle 50 percent test score ranges would likely result in classes with a Black and Latinx population of 1 to 4 percent, and the test-score cutoffs would have to be closer to the 10th or 13th percentile to maintain current levels of enrollment for those two groups. A lottery based on GPA cutoffs would disadvantage male applicants, potentially lowering male enrollment by as much as 33 percent…
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