Outside editorial: Ending early admissions at universities would help minorities and the poor

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007

When Harvard University announced the elimination of its early-admissions policy, the hope was that other schools would follow suit. To their credit, Princeton University and the University of Virginia did so - but so far, unfortunately, that's been it. As a result, an admissions route that favors the haves over the have-nots continues to be the rule at some of the nation's finest colleges and universities.

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The three pioneers had found that the main beneficiaries of early admissions were those who needed the least help in getting into college: affluent, white students with connections, savvy and other advantages. Students who are poor or members of minorities are less likely to have access to advice on early admissions strategy and often need to factor in multiple financial offers. Virginia could find only one low-income early-admission applicant in recent years.

Any effort to increase the socioeconomic diversity of those going to college is commendable. At a time when the nation is becoming more diverse, scandalous educational gaps persist; 42 percent of whites age 25 to 64 have associate degrees or higher, compared with 26 percent of blacks and 18 percent of Hispanics. Certainly, dropping early-decision programs alone isn't enough. Elementary and high schools have to do a better job, and college must be made more affordable.

Still, eliminating the inequities of early admission is a significant step. Some schools, less prestigious and less endowed than these three, may feel they will miss out on too many top students if they drop early admissions and other schools don't. All the more reason for greater numbers to join in dumping a system that's inherently unfair - and places unconscionable stress on 17-year-olds.

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