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A Simple Way to Equalize the Ivies?

A Simple Way to Equalize the Ivies?


In this week’s New York Times, Dana Goldstein and Anemona Hartocollis write about the difference in enrollments at the Ivy Plus (eight Ivy League universities plus Duke, Stanford, M.I.T., and the University of Chicago) institutions when students’ family incomes are considered. The source of the data for these reporters is a paper co-authored by economists Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner, and Danny Yagan, Income Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility Across Colleges in the United States. The paper follows their 2017 research paper, Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility.

A major finding of the 2017 research was that students from low-income families have excellent outcomes after attending selective schools, but there are very few low-income students at such schools. The soon-to-be-released paper examines the data and proposes that utilizing a modified scoring system based on SAT scores designed to add weighting to low- and middle-income applicants would increase their representation at the 12 Ivy Plus schools by more than 300% from 7.3% to 25.8%. When SAT scores are reviewed for all 976 selective schools in the original study, 75% of affluent students with SAT scores of 1080 or greater attended one of the selective schools, while only 51% of low-income students with similar SAT scores attended one of the schools.

The Times reporters quote Friedman, who states “you cannot explain the very high shares of families from high-income families solely by saying that they are the ones who have higher test scores.” The researchers recommend that adding a weighting to SAT scores for low- and middle-income applicants similar to the weighting given to legacy applicants would increase the percentage of low- and middle-income students attending Ivy Plus institutions. The reporters, in turn, write that the study does not consider student qualifications beyond test scores or how public policy designed to make college more affordable might affect their recommendations.

Additionally, the study does not address how adopting this strategy would affect university finances (a simple assumption that full-pay students are replaced by low-income students would require different funding sources than the high-income families who pay from their personal assets). Lastly, the reporters write that the study does not propose where the reductions in admitted students would come from if these policies were enacted, but infer that the most likely reductions could come from legacy applicants, athletes, Blacks and Latinos, all of which are groups receiving additional weighting in current admissions practices at these elite schools.

Reading the article and the research papers triggered a personal reflection. Many years ago, I attended one of these 12 institutions as an undergraduate from a low-income family. I remember being surprised that some members of my wider family did not like the idea that I would be attending a high-cost private university when I could have attended my state’s flagship university on a fully funded scholarship. I remember the vast difference between the finances of many classmates from high-income families versus mine. Colleges that have a serious interest in recruiting a higher percentage of low-income students will have to address the reality that low-income students may not feel at home in a setting where a disproportionate percentage of students are from the top one percent of earners. Additional funding sources beyond loans for cost of living, study abroad programs and unpaid internships may be needed to equalize the footing for low-income students. Research like this can kick-start policy discussions, but an appropriate implementation will require a cold hard dose of reality and some common sense.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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