Chad Aldeman writes for InsideHigherEd that selective colleges and universities ought to scrap their admissions systems and replace it with a lottery:
Each year, thousands of qualified applicants bombarded the admissions office, and, even after setting a relatively high standard, the admissions office had far too many qualified applicants to choose from, and very little time to do so. During admissions season, each officer was expected to sort through 50 distinct applications per day, five days a week. At eight hours a day, not counting breaks, meetings, visitors, and phone calls, the admissions officer had roughly 10 minutes to devote to each applicant (eight hours a day times 60 minutes per hour divided by 50 applicants). Ten minutes, unless, as my friend points out, they were athletes or legacies.
At many institutions, in other words, it is a far more random process than colleges would like students to believe. The myth of a meritocracy, on which the selective admissions system is built, is substantially a lie.
Selective colleges did not mean for this to happen; rather, they are victims of their own success, along with the emergence of a truly national higher education market and the rise of a rankings-driven consumer culture. But, there is no going back now, so colleges should embrace the unavoidable randomness and go from a lottery-like system to a true lottery.
A lottery would destigmatize admissions rejections (and dramatically reduce pressures on high school students), eliminate favoritism for children of alumni and donors, stop preferences for students that don’t need financial aid, provide equal opportunities to less socially connected students, and allow universities to transfer their spending on admissions departments into more productive areas like scholarships.
But because the lottery would rely on minimum eligibility standards such as GPA and SAT scores, the system would reinforce the biases found in testing. Aldeman would probably argue that the current system already does this and that this system is simply more transparent about it. It would also, I think, encourage an even greater flood of applications, thus even further lowering the odds of a student being admitted to her preferred institution. After all, how many students meeting minimum SAT requirements would choose NOT to apply to Harvard if it were simply a lottery?
What are some of the likely implications of this sort of thing on the least advantaged students? Would the benefits to low-income and under-represented populations (such as equalizing the playing field) be worth giving up the ability to explain one’s unique circumstances and demonstrate a likelihood for success? Or does that really not matter anyway in today’s admissions world?