Lowest Ever Admissions Rate Should Give Us Pause, Not Pride

When Stanford recently announced its lowest ever admissions rate of 5.69 percent, members of the Review’s editorial board noticed many of our peers reacting with jubilation on Facebook.

“Heck Yeah Stanny!!!!” one student declared ecstatically, sharing the Daily’s article that reported the statistic. “Fuck Harvard,” another noted more bluntly, lauding how the Farm is now the most selective University among the nation’s major top schools.

The Editorial Board feels that we as students should react to this “new low” with caution, not cheer. Stanford University has become steadily more selective over the years. The University admitted 7.2 percent of applicants in 2010, 7.1 in 2011, and 6.6 in 2012. This pattern of increasing selectivity–culminating in our lowest ever rate of 5.69–should raise concern over the ever higher barriers to entry for students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds.

To be clear, we are not making an argument about the particular data set of the 2013 admissions. Generally, the admission rate may go down because the total applicant pool grows, which need not have any bearing on the admissions rate of low-income students. In fact, the share of low-income admits may very well have risen over the past five years, even as the total admission rate has gone down. We do not have access to this data, nor are we saying the new rate in itself demonstrates a higher barrier to entry.

We are saying, though, that this concern should be foremost when hearing such news–unhesitating self-congratulation smacks of apathy in the face of a growing issue of national concern.

According to a study co-authored by Stanford Professor Caroline Hixby, only 34 percent of high school seniors who were high achievers but from the bottom fourth of the income distribution attended any one of the nation’s 238 most selective schools. The number is 78 percent among high-achieving students in top income quartile. Additionally, around 70 percent of low income students in elite colleges come from 15 cities which have comparatively high-quality public schools. Outside areas with such resources, rural areas in particular, low income students are largely blocked from admissions.

There are obvious and hugely determinative consequences to missing out on the top tier education. Top tier schools have much higher graduation rates than the schools low-income students more frequently attend, not to mention the better quality and breadth of coursework as well as the abundance of networking opportunities. Low-income students even do better while studying at selective colleges: 89 percent of them graduate compared to the 50 percent of high-achieving low-income students matriculated in nonselective schools.

There are also systemic features of the admissions process that disadvantage students from low income backgrounds. Admissions offices in elite schools heavily weight Advanced Placement test scores, but according to a report by the College Board–which lamented “distressing results”—nearly 70 percent of low income students fail these tests. Moreover, according to a report from the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, AP courses are not even offered in many poor districts.

Stanford is of course aware of this issue and explicitly addresses it in its acceptance policy.

In a statement delivered to the Daily, Director of Admissions Richard Shaw asserted:

“We acknowledge that students apply to Stanford with different opportunities and exposure. That is why we pay so much attention to the schools and environments applicants are coming from,” he said. “Admissions definitely does not disregard any applications without a thorough contextual review. We factor in school profiles, and the kinds of opportunities that students have had in our decision.”

Certainly this statement of principle is admirable, and Stanford is even among one of the more inclusive elite schools. As far as we are aware, however, there are no explicit and measurable goals articulated by the Office of Admissions. This is problematic as social pressure for change can hardly be applied to a process no one can see.

We do not presume to offer solutions nor do we mean to question Stanford’s earnest commitment to addressing the issue. We do, however, wish to voice concern given Stanford’s admission season so recently ended.

On the level of policy, we want both a more transparent approach to help increase accountability, and one that has definite, quantitative goals that are easily evaluated.

On the level of discourse and conversation, we more certainly ask our peers to be less unconditionally jubilant and more discerning and demanding about an issue that everyone should care about.

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