College Access and the Shifting Meritocracy: Test Scores, Class Rank and Race-Sensitive Admission Criteria

Sigal Alon, Tel Aviv University
Marta Tienda, Princeton University

Two controversies dominate the national policy debate about access to selective colleges and universities. One is about the weight assigned to standardized test scores and the second is about the use of color-sensitive practices in college admissions. Although usually discussed separately, both share a common root, namely the coming to college-age of the children of the affluent baby boomers, which increased demand for a relatively fixed number of slots at the most competitive universities. The fundamental challenge facing admission officers is deciding who is most deserving of admission. Stated as a question, on what achievement criteria is our educational meritocracy constructed? Both controversies about college access materialize directly from this question and in this study we aim to explore the link between them. Our empirical analyzes employ three datasets. The High School and Beyond (HS&B), the National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS:88), and the College and Beyond (C&B) database.

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Presented in Session 26: Education Enrollment and Attainment