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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Harvard takes a first step to lower ivory walls

    Harvard University may not be known for setting fashion trends, but in the world of academics, it’s always been the one to watch. Last week Harvard proposed a major change in its admissions process, and as expected, other universities and colleges are beginning to following suit.

    The school announced a plan two weeks ago to end its early-admissions program, thereafter joined by Princeton University and, earlier this week, the University of Virginia. The plan arose out of a hope to encourage more minority and low-income students to apply to the school.

    Many in the administration and around the country feel that early admissions unfairly advantaged affluent whites. Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons described the process of early admission as an “”exclusive club, to which somehow only a few (are) invited,”” in an article last week in The Chronicles of Higher Education.

    While the UA itself does not have early admissions, many schools including Dartmouth College, Yale University and other Ivy Leaguers have specifically stated that they will not be altering their early admissions in light of the new moves. However, review of the admissions process is inevitable, especially at major private schools. (Harvard is the GQ of academia, remember?)

    The main contention of opponents of early admission programs lies in the composition of the pool of applicants they generally attract.

    Because of the binding commitment that comes with an early decision, many applicants come from families who can ignore considerations such as financial aid. In layman’s terms, this means rich kids who can afford tuition and board charges that are between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

    “”The meritocracy that universities claim to stand by is not nearly as merit-based as the image they would present. There is a reason that President Bush and John Kerry went to Yale – not because they stuffed their applications with wonderful lines about working in nursing homes. Both were “”C”” students living in Yale families.””

    When a student must compare options in deciding what’s most feasible, he is cut out of the early applicant pool and is instead held over until the spring semester. Considering Princeton admitted about half of its incoming class this year as early decision, students of lower income are disadvantaged in not being part of this group.

    Additionally, students are more likely to apply early decision, especially to top-tier schools such as Harvard and Princeton, if a parent has attended as well, known as a legacy admission. Harvard admits an astounding 40 percent of legacy applicants, as compared to only 11 percent of the general applicant pool.

    Once again, this generally means a greater edge for students from wealthy families. Basically, it’s like giving a silver bowl to the kid that grew up with the silver spoon, with which to eat his silver cereal. Or something like that.

    It may seem like Harvard has taken the proverbial silver spoon and thrown it out of the admissions process. However, there are plenty of obstacles in the way to actually achieving this.

    Yes, Harvard is the example that much of academia looks to in forming policy, curriculum and the like. However, there are still plenty of schools vehemently opposed to such a plan. Georgetown University’s admissions dean described Harvard’s plan as an argument for equality. He subsequently called for a “”less-drastic measure”” to handle admissions problems.

    Less drastic? Even if one considers the move drastic, is that a bad thing when striving for greater equality?

    In order for Harvard to actually implement such a policy without hurting itself, others will have to accept these rules to the admissions game as well. Otherwise, Harvard gets left out of the student “”arms race”” as others take advantage. Considering the school didn’t make a permanent commitment, leaving it as a two- or three-year experiment, it’s certainly a possibility that other schools will shy away from the idea, and Harvard will be forced to reverse policy.

    The meritocracy that universities claim to stand by is not nearly as merit-based as the image they would present. There is a reason that President Bush and John Kerry went to Yale – not because they stuffed their applications with wonderful lines about working in nursing homes. Both were “”C”” students living in Yale families. It’s not the children of rich alumni who should be favored here; it is the student who has not been able to afford the best opportunities who deserves a leg up on his fellow silver-spooned student.

    Harvard deserves a lot of credit in its decision to move away from procedures that help to solidify class system within our country. Social class mobility starts with education, and higher education starts with Harvard. The logical conclusion? Hopefully, it’s that Harvard started a movement toward greater social mobility.

    Shurid Sen is a political science senior. He can be reached at
    letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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