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ISSUE 120 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/29/2006

Early admission unfair

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, September 29, 2006

In the past few weeks both Harvard and Princeton Universities have taken an important step towards ensuring more equal access to higher education in this country. Both institutions have ended their early admission programs, effective next year (for the class of 2012).

Harvard was the second university in the country to end early admission (the University of Delaware led the way in May), largely because Harvard, the first college in this hemisphere, is also by far the most popular.

By ending early admission, Harvard simultaneously scored points for being pro-equal opportunity and pressured its closest competitors to follow suit. Princeton University did so last week.

Early admission is essentially a contract between a prospective student and a school: in exchange for a binding promise to attend if accepted, one is informed of admission in December, as opposed to March. By contrast, early action, which St. Olaf offers, provides early notification of acceptance but is non-binding.

The early admission pool of applicants is the weakest across the board (early action, conversely, is the strongest), but the practice is popular for several reasons. Since it is virtually impossible to negotiate a better financial aid package, wealthier students tend to apply much more often under early admission than students from lower-and middle-income backgrounds, leaving colleges free to charge early admission students full boat.

By the same token, wealthier students with weaker backgrounds are disproportionately represented in the early admissions pool; they know their money may get them a foot in an otherwise closed door.

Early admission is also an effective way to improve a college's "yield," the percentage of accepted students who attend the school. "Yield" is one of many arcane statistics popularized by college ranking publications which affect whether an institution appears elite.

Whether such statistics actually reflect an institution's quality is questionable. But yield is one of the factors used to assign institutional rankings, and thus other schools that may have considered ending early admission probably were dissuaded by the prospect of sinking in the rankings, thus losing more top students to Harvard.

How much does this matter to us at St. Olaf? While there probably aren't many Oles like me who applied to both Harvard and St. Olaf, if the college remains committed to its stated goals of a more diverse student body it must find a way to better create the kind of socioeconomic balance among its students which Harvard, Princeton and the University of Delaware have now prioritized. Hopefully there will never be any more classes of Oles without a single black woman.

More and more colleges and universities ought to follow these universities' lead in the near future. Early admission hands too many spots at quality institutions to (relatively) poorly performing students from rich backgrounds while students from less wealthy families are denied. Education is the critical resource of the twenty-first century. In the competition for this resource, no one should be given an unfair advantage.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in Classics with concentrations in linguistics and in Japan studies.

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