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Thoughts on Admissions Preferences (4/5)
Important original research in the area of academic mismatch was done at Dartmouth starting in 1996 by Professor of Psychology Rogers Elliott — who, interestingly enough, was the Parliamentarian at the October faculty meeting where Folt made her previously-mentioned comments — and A. C. Stenta, then head of the College’s Office of Institutional Research. In their study (The Role of Ethnicity in Choosing and Leaving Science in Highly Selective Institutions) of approximately 5,000 students at four élite institutions, they noted that African-Americans as a group were slightly more likely than whites to want to pursue a STEM major when they arrived at Dartmouth and other schools (45% vs. 41%); however, by the time they graduated, they were less than half as likely to be in a scientific field. Students with Math SAT scores below 550 were only 20% as likely to graduate with a STEM major as a student with a Math SAT over 700.
Today at the College, approximately 42% of incoming students of all races express a desire to major in the sciences, but only about 20% succeed in doing so. Given an attrition rate from the sciences of 52% among the entire student body, one could fairly assume, given Elliott and Stenta’s work, that the great majority of mismatched students are unsuccessul at Dartmouth in realizing their dream of majoring in the sciences, and subsequently pursuing a career in medicine or another scientific field.
Elliott and Stenta also observed that students at the historically black colleges, who on average had lower Math SAT scores than students of color at élite colleges, are more likely to successfully major in a STEM field, and they were also more likely to go on to a STEM doctoral program. This observation applies to all students:
The mismatch between certain students benefiting from large admissions preferences and the average preparation of students at their university can be flagrant — far more than proponents of affirmative action policies have ever admitted. Mismatch reviews data adduced in a 2006 study by the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) titled “Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Michigan” to illustrate the challenge facing different groups at the University of Michigan, and the results of the mismatch between the university’s level of difficulty and certain students’ preparation for that level of difficulty.
In an article in Minding the Campus, Taylor and Sander cite another work that described the difference in the admissions criteria for different groups:
… undisputed data summarized in a 2009 book [No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal: Race and Class in Elite College Admission and Campus Life] by pro-preference scholars Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford (among other works) show that racial preferences give blacks an enormous “admissions bonus … equivalent to 310 points”(on a scale of 1600) relative to whites, and 450 points relative to Asians, at a sample of elite colleges. The black-white gaps in admitted students’ mean high school GPAs often average a full grade point or more.
What would the corresponding figures look like at Dartmouth? In private conversations, members of the faculty have estimated that only 25-50% of matriculating non-Asian minority students are fully prepared to be at the College; the remaining students do not possess the necessary secondary school background to compete successfully in Hanover.
This observations should not be taken as an assertion that these students aren’t bright. On the contrary, the common message in Krauthammer’s article, the Mismatch book, and numerous studies in this field, is that students unduly favored by the Admissions department at a school like Dartmouth would likely be leaders at less demanding, less competitive schools. If they were to study at institutions appropriate to their level of preparation, they would have a far greater probability of going on to be scientists, successful doctoral candidates, and even faculty members. However, preferential admissions standards hurt their educational experience and their post-undergraduate prospects by placing them in highly competitive schools where they are far less likely to succeed.
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