Tuesday, November 01, 2022

When Outrage Isn't A Currency

 ... then you won't be able to buy anything with it.

It looks like the Supreme Court is going to finally strike down affirmative action. Its sights are set on Harvard, but the ruling will ripple through more places than that. If Harvard actually employs colorblind admissions, their demographics will change dramatically. More importantly, societal incentives will change.

This is for the University of Michigan and more than a decade old, but from what I've seen of the test score disparities at Harvard, their results are similar. Blacks and Hispanics are finding it much easier to get admitted than whites and Asians.

Right now, Harvard is 14% Asian, 41% white, 10% Hispanic, 7% black, 24% foreign and 4% mixed. Say that after the ruling, Harvard throws out race as a factor and ends up with, say, 40% Asian, 25% white, 5% Hispanic and 2% black. What happens then?

I can see a couple of scenarios.

  1. Harvard throws out the SAT and goes on GPA and extracurriculars alone. That produces an arms race in the high schools where grades get inflated. At that point, admission to Harvard won't be much different from admission to LSU. Over time, the value of a Harvard degree declines because employers realize they're producing mediocre graduates.
  2. Activists howl about the SAT even more than they do now. The SAT board keeps tinkering with the test and either dilutes it to the point of uselessness, in which case you have number 1, above, or they throw up their hands and discover that they can't find a set of questions that gives them the racial results they want.
  3. Parents see the results and understand that the price of admission to top-flight universities is time spent studying. Outrage loses its leverage with the admissions team at Harvard.

Right now, race-based admissions mask the true cost of learning. Our educational pricing structure is broken. Race is effectively a subsidy just like deficit spending is a subsidy to the economy.

If the demographics of Harvard and the other elite universities change to reflect test scores, questions will have to be asked about the behavior of both the students and the parents.


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