Thursday, September 14, 2006

The value of early admission 

Harvard has scrapped its early admission program, and a lot of discussion is occurring.
The decision fits into a larger pattern of Harvard's commitment to making admission fairer for the less-advantaged, says William Fitzsimmons, the school's dean of admissions. Students who lack good counseling in high school or whose parents lack knowledge about college admissions miss out on the early-admissions cycle, he says. "Now those students will be able to consider Harvard in their senior year and see a level playing field."
Early admission applications have a 20% higher acceptance rate, according to a study -- about the same effect as having a parent as an alum of the school.

It certainly was attractive to colleges to have some part of their incoming class locked in early in the year, and parents and students themselves may want to have the pressure of the choice removed early in the year. I wondered if perhaps the reason for scrapping the programs is the possibility that someone receiving early admission then slacks off in his or her senior year. But Arthur Brooks (subscribers link) in today's WSJ shows me I'm wrong:
To get rid of the program for the reasons typically given by critics -- suboptimal personal behaviors and imperfect information about the program -- seeks to correct private problems by eliminating consumer choices. This is silly. We don't ban items because people don't know about them, nor do we put an end to most goods and services (even truly dangerous ones like guns and booze) simply because some people might fail to use them in beneficial ways. The public interest is best served in a market economy not by eliminating choices, but by increasing the information about products and how to use them properly.
I buy that. The reason to get rid of early admissions at Harvard, Brooks says, is that it doesn't need that policy to get a good pool. Fine, but as the first link notes, the University of Delaware has also removed its early admissions policy, and -- no offense to the school -- it's not an Ivy League institution. If other institutions want to market themselves to diverse student populations, they should do so directly rather than reduce choice. (As one might expect, there is no early admissions program at SCSU.)