A new working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research asserts that Harvard intentionally recruits applications from a large pool of African American students who “effectively have no chance” of admission. The authors speculate that the College does so in order to “downplay the magnitude of race-based preferences.” Despite acknowledging that attracting a diverse applicant pool could promote diverse incoming classes, the study questions whether these recruitment strategies amount to students being sold false promises to serve the school’s interests.
We believe that the College is justified in conducting thorough outreach to African American students. Previous research has shown that a vast majority of low-income high-achievers do not apply to selective colleges. Moreover, many high-potential students may have lower test scores, not because they aren’t deserving of admission, but because of the many flaws of these tests, as well as the fact that potential cannot be narrowly defined by a score. Broad-based recruitment is essential to encouraging these students.
Rather than indulging in speculation that such practice is a cover for the opportunistic manipulation of admissions statistics, we support Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons ’67’s testimony during the trial for Harvard v. Students for Fair Admissions trial. Lower test-score cutoffs for recruiting African American applicants are warranted because “economic disadvantage” has given them “less of an opportunity, on average at least, to prepare well and to do well on standardized testing.” It seems clear to us that as long as the College is transparent about applications for fee waivers, such that it does not unduly take money from economically disadvantaged students, it should continue its recruitment strategies.
Furthermore, we believe this paper is part of a set of research reports that seeks to discredit Harvard’s admission process as racially discriminatory and subsequently dismantle the practice of affirmative action in higher education spearheaded by SFFA’s legal campaign. As we have opined in the past, holistic admissions captures students with nontraditional interests and academic backgrounds, and these applicants, who do not fall into a standard bucket of successful applicants, contribute to the diversity of our student body. At best, test scores are a product of past performance and circumstance. Harvard should continue to be concerned with future potential. No applicant’s academic success can be entirely encompassed by a test score.
Lastly, and more generally, we are uncertain whether the use of statistical modeling and analysis can provide a sufficiently robust understanding of the admissions process. Undeniably, the aggregation of data surrounding college admissions can reveal implicit biases that are unintended for each applicant and only noticeable when considering a wider group of applicants. These studies, however, consider only the end results of the admissions process — that certain students do not apply to selective colleges, or that Asian American students have lower personal scores — but fail to consider the substantive process behind each applicant’s admission. Admissions are done on a case-by-case basis, considering the contextual factors around each applicants’ background, and studies that merely focus on what the outcome looks like should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when they are used to determine whether the entire process passes the muster of nondiscrimination.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.