Economic status can create educational gap

Editorial Board

In March, the Justice Department announced the results of the largest college admissions scandal ever investigated in the United States. The scam involved 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who worked with a broker to fudge admissions test scores and bribe athletic coaches to guarantee the admission of dozens of wealthy students into elite colleges.

Some parents paid $15,000 to $75,000 to raise their children’s test scores artificially. Others paid even more to bribe athletic coaches into giving their students athletic scholarships. After admittance, the students faked an injury or withdrew from the team while maintaining their spot at the school. While this scam is high-level and extreme, The Eagle’s Eye believes this scandal speaks to a much larger issue involving college admissions and equity; families that can afford certain resources for their children have a financial advantage in getting into elite schools.

Legacy Admissions

The oldest and most well known of advantages that wealthy students enjoy is called legacy admissions. Students with parents who attended elite colleges like Dartmouth and Harvard are shown a greater preference when applying to these schools. Often, the guardians of these applicants are regular donors to the colleges. These admissions policies tend to perpetuate the fact that these selective universities are historically lacking in diversity.

According to a Purdue University study, admittance influenced by legacy is a practice dating back 100 years, when colleges were only attended by wealthy white men. This historical precedent has followed elite colleges into today; Harvard, the oldest university in the nation, is 42% white with less than 2% of “Dean’s List” applicants last year considered economically disadvantaged. If legacy admissions continue to hold weight when considering candidates, it hinders efforts to bring economic and racial diversity to these colleges.

Testing and ‘Demonstrated Interest’

Another benefit that lower-income students do not get to enjoy is quality access to college preparatory resources such as SAT/ACT tutoring and summer programs at universities. These kinds of initiatives can improve the attractiveness of college applicants substantially, but not without a price. Te average SAT tutor goes for $70 an hour and the Brown University Pre-College program charges up to $8,000 for their courses. SAT tutoring has been proven to raise scores, often by a rather large margin, and many selective universities value students who have “shown interest” in the school by touring often and going to summer pre-college programs.

These advantages could make or break an admission decision between two similarly qualified candidates. While these privileges are much more readily accessible than legacy preference, there is still a substantial amount of wealth required for parents to provide these advantages to their children. Economically disadvantaged and impoverished families — those that make up more than half of the Austin ISD — will likely never have access to these things.

Often, these advantages do little to affect merit; SAT and ACT tutoring is typically focused on teaching the language of the test and strategies instead of material. While SAT/ACT tutoring shouldn’t be done away with and online tutoring services like Khan Academy have made admissions test practice more accessible to every socioeconomic situation, we believe that“demonstrated interest” should not hold any weight in the admissions process at all.

Community Privilege

An ugly truth about American society is that almost every aspect of life is affected by race and class, and language and social practices are no exception. In general, richer and whiter populations in America have access to higher quality educations, while poorer and more diverse populations are subject to underfunded and more poorly-managed schools. This affects the way that we speak and think; the communities we develop affect how we interact professionally and unprofessionally, formally and informally.

The language used in wealthier populations is largely seen as the standard for professionalism and academia. Research in recent years has shown that black and Latinx populations receive much lower SAT score on average than white and Asian populations. Some researchers and sociologists have cited inherent bias in the language on the test, specifically in the verbal section, where the subjects written about are ones that white populations would be expected to be more familiar with.

Equitable Merit

The amount of reform required to make elite college admissions equitable is colossal. There’s an obvious need to dismantle the collective American perception of advanced academics. For too long, the idea of smartness has been associated with richness and whiteness, stemming from academia’s white male history. For the college admissions process, this means adapting the SAT and ACT tests to be more accessible to all backgrounds.

The Eagle’s Eye believes that the advantage that individuals that attend elite colleges receive follows them for the rest of their lives. Too little of the decision process for receiving these advantages is based on equitable merit. Until these colleges and communities reckon with this themselves, poor and minority students will suffer disadvantages largely outside of their control.1