New report: Placing average students in top colleges increases their grad rate by 26 percent

An analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce revisits a discussion we had here on the blog last week: Do students fare well at colleges that appear out of their academic league?

That question is under review because the U.S. Supreme Court is looking again at affirmative action and whether race ought to play any role in admissions at the University of Texas, Austin.

In 2008,  white student Abigail Fisher sued after she was denied admission to the Texas flagship because she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class. Seventy-five percent of students admitted to the Austin campus reflect the “talented 10” policy that assures spots to students graduating in the upper ranks of their high school class. Fisher did not make the cut for the remaining 25 percent of admissions based on multiple considerations, including leadership, extracurriculars, honors, socioeconomic status, family composition and race.

During the Fisher vs. University of Texas hearing, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

Metro Atlanta parents often complain their high-scoring teens were rejected or wait-listed at the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech because the two schools admitted less qualified rural or minority students. The problem, according to the disappointed parents, is that these “weaker” students won’t succeed at such competitive campuses.

But the evidence suggests these kids do fine. And here is more evidence from Georgetown:

The theory that an average student, including minority students, will be overmatched at a selective university and will do poorly is empirically unsound, according to a new analysis from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (Georgetown Center). In fact, all students with above average test scores will succeed at a higher rate at selective colleges than open-admission colleges.

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to decide this month on its latest affirmative action case (Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin), justices have focused attention on the theory of “mismatch” that says college students will perform best at schools with students more like themselves. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas expressed those thoughts in his dissent to the 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger saying: “The Law School tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers. These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition.”

“We’re holding qualified students back, particularly minorities, saying they can’t succeed when in reality, they indeed can,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center.

The Georgetown Center analyzed nationally representative data to demonstrate that the mismatch theory is wrong. The analysis shows that placing average students in the nation’s best colleges and universities will increase their rate of graduation by 26 percent.

“The data shows that three times more students are qualified to attend the top 468 universities than actually go to them,” said Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown Center.

The Facts

The average student (scoring around 1000 on the SAT) will have a 77 percent chance of graduating when attending one of the top 468 universities in the country — a 26 percentage point increase over the expected graduation rate when they attend open access schools, where the average SAT score is below 900.

Lower scoring African-Americans and Hispanics — many from low-income backgrounds —  do in fact fare much better when placed in academically challenging environments, even when other students are predominantly white (75 percent), and affluent (56 percent of students come from the nation’s wealthiest families).

Students of varied races perform almost equally. White students in the bottom half of test scores have a graduation rate of 75 percent at the most selective colleges and universities, and those in the top half of test scores graduate at a rate of 88 percent.

For minority students, the graduation rate is 73 percent for those from the bottom half of test score and 85 percent for those in the top half of the test distribution.

Students at selective universities from the lowest test quartile have a higher graduation rate (68 percent) than do students from the top test quartile who attend open-access institutions (59 percent).

“The misconstrued belief that students with low test scores won’t succeed leaves behind half a million high school students every year who graduate in the upper half of their high school class but do not graduate from college,” said Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown Center. “And nearly half are minority students who would have been successful at selective institutions.”

tablegeorgetown

 

 

 

 

 

table2georgetowntable3georgetown

The Fisher vs. University of Texas case stems from a law enacted in 1997 requiring the University of Texas to admit all high school seniors who ranked in the top ten percent of their classes and a later modification that allowed for considering race as a factor in admission for all other applicants. Abigail Fisher, a white female who was not in the top ten percent of her class, applied for undergraduate admission in 2008 and was denied. A judge denied Fisher’s claim  that affirmative action violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,  but an appellate court overturned that ruling. The appeal later reached the Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling later this month.

 

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

There are a few lurking variables that may not be measured or considered by the researchers explaining the reasons behind the correlations:


First, the expectations communicated to the students about how much work is to be done and how well it is to be done vary along with how competitive it is to gain admission.   That affects everyone at the school, including students arriving with lower test scores and GPAs at the more competitive schools who will do more because more is expected of them.  


Second, students at more competitive schools usually are surrounded by far more by more academic, social and psychological support than those at lesser schools.   This has to make a difference, generally, in a school's graduation rate. 


Third, more students at the better rated schools are far more likely to live there and have part-time rather than full time jobs.  It's a very different situation at commuter schools where the students work more than the study.


Fourth, the teaching is better, particularly at the very top universities and liberal arts colleges where BOTH academic AND teaching brilliance are required to get tenure and those profs actually teach the students.  We've all heard horror stories about problems that regularly arise when grad students teach the undergrad courses at state colleges.   Along with that is the increasing prevalence at the lesser schools of far more teachers being sent 1099 rather than W-2 forms, where the part-timers, of necessity, are as concerned with supplementing their teaching pay as they are with their students.   In many schools, most of the classes are taught by part timers, while the metastasizing number of administrators are full time.


What I'm suggesting is that those funding and running state college systems would do better to create the wherewithal to lift the lesser schools than lifting a favored few individuals by tinkering with race-conscious admissions at their top institutions.  This is particularly true in state university systems having puny private endowments at its top schools. 


There is no institution out there, outside of large media institutions like the AJC, to make sure that state officials aren't more lopsidedly funding the few top schools within a state university system than they ought to be.  What is spent, per capita, broken out by expense and capital spending, a) on each school and b) within a school where there is both a two year and four year institution?   What do the figures look like before and after private endowment spending, per capita, is taken into account?


Greater transparency would allow the public to see a) where endowments need to increase and b) the effect of legislative appropriations.


Through reporting of stats would also allow accurate assessments to be made of the lurking variables that the Georgetown people missed. 





Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

A couple of glaring omissions by the "researchers".

1.  No discussion of students who begin college at a less competitive school and later transfer to the more competitive school.  Counts as a negative for one and a positive for the other in this study.

2.  Any comparison of academic achievement should include field of study.  If one demographic is majoring in engineering while the other demographic is majoring in basket-weaving, comparing the two groups is a useless endeavor.

gapeach101
gapeach101

YES!!!

I cannot tell you how many students my children helped in advanced science classes because they never learned  Algebra.  Not because they were stupid or didn't pay attention in class.  It's because they never had an opportunity to learn Algebra in whatever school they were attending at the time.  

Starik
Starik

No doubt the same rule applies to kids with average credentials who are white or Asian, many of whom are as poor and have cultural backgrounds similar to the black kids (Georgia) and Hispanic kids (Texas) who get an affirmative action admission to a very selective college. Affirmative action is racial discrimination. Is it justified after 50 years of racial integration and affirmative action?

RogerClegg
RogerClegg

My off-the-cuff reaction is that there’s not much new here; take a look at pp. 106-108 of the book Mismatch.  And apparently this new study doesn’t talk about lower grades and switched majors.

Johnny Knight
Johnny Knight

that totally is dependent on the StUDENt and his/her willingness to work harder to keep up.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

This phenomena does not surprise me.  I will try to respond with more detail in the next few days.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

I can't support this assertion with data, but will make it nonetheless:

If you send a kid who only scored 1,000 on the verbal + math sections of the SAT off to study engineering at Georgia Tech, that kid will be in serious risk of flunking out.

poblack
poblack

@AlreadySheared As a GT Alum I agree that not having high math scores will make it very challenging to succeed, especially during freshman year. You have to have the fundamentals in advance math and science to be able to keep up. But that's an exception.


Just because schools like UGA, Texas, UNC, etc are hard to get into doesn't mean they are academically challenging. It just means a lot of people want to go there (mainly because they are the flagship school in the state and lower tuition). If one works hard and puts in the effort, they will graduate and do well.



redweather
redweather

The headline seems to say it all (if obliquely). Students who attend top tier colleges and universities will get more academic support than they will at other colleges. This no doubt accounts, at least in part, for the improved graduation rates, regardless of their academics. 

1Robert
1Robert

Affirmative action is wrong.

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@1Robert There is a difference between some forms of "affirmative action" and actual discrimination in terms of admission because of the applicant's race.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Not having access to the full report, I really cannot say.  The devil is in the details; actually, the devil is in the definitions and the assumptions.


What are the qualifications for determining elite status?  Are we talking about the Harvards, the Columbias, the Dukes, the Wellesleys?  Or are we talking about the "aspiring elites?"


Did the authors control for SES and financial aid?  That is, do students at more elite universities get commensurate gift aid that regular colleges have no endowment to offer?


Too many questions at this point to grant credence to this.


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Wascatlady For example, did the authors use multiple regression to hold certain confounding variables constant?

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@#Pocahontas There have been some studies showing that these policies discriminate against Asian-Americans more than any other group.  White females get strongly discriminated against as well.

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

@xxxzzz @#Pocahontas When the Democrats in the California Legislature began making noises that they would junk race-neutral admission at state schools, there was a wholesale revolt by Asian Americans.  The idea was spiked.


My guess is that race conscious admissions will eventually crack Asian loyalty to the Democratic Party, particularly when Asians realize immigration reform that would cut the wait of Indians and Chinese waiting for green cards is being held hostage by those also wanting citizenship granted to all the millions who have arrived illegally. 

GB101
GB101

Whether the mismatch theory is valid or not should have no bearing on the court's decision on affirmative action.  


(1)  If policies are constitutional they are constitutional and permissible even if they are unsound policies. 


(2) If they are unconstitutional they are prohibited, even if they are beneficial.  


Whether the policies are beneficial or not is to be determined by the political branches, not the court.  Or at least that is they way it ought to be.  The courts have been legislating for decades, and getting away with it.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@GB101 I think what ties them together is the idea of "compelling interest."

44F 3FCE0C 11A2
44F 3FCE0C 11A2

So, how about the above-average student denied admission? How do they turn out down the road--grad rate, starting salaries, career salaries, career prospects?


It is just a bunch of white students, so I know the party line will not care, but if we are going to legitimize racial discrimination--and we are going to, and we are going to call it the greatest thing since sliced bread--then let us look at all the data. You've just kicked some kid out of the chance to be in the "elite" because of race. How does he it turn out for him?

xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@44F 3FCE0C 11A2 Their data suggests that it would be worse for those who got discriminated against because of their race.