Ed Stevens vs. college admissions

Background

In Texas, at least at the University of Texas, the primary admissions process for state residents is based on high school class ranking at graduation: The top ten percent are automatically admitted to UT, if they apply.

This policy has some problems. For one thing, UT is huge, constantly fighting to stay under 50,000 students. The policy frequently comes under attack, particularly from administrators who would like to be more choosy in who they admit.

I think that the policy is one of the few things right about UT. We can argue about the exact number---ten percent, five percent, or with the level set to admin N students---but any other admissions process is significantly less fair.

A while back, someone (possibly Ed Stevens) wrote to the Statesman complaining that their daughter could not get into UT, their local school, because she did not meet the top-ten-percent policy, even though she had lots of wonderful extra-curricular activity experience.

Then, along came the following letter....

Letters

Ed Stevens, Austin American-Statesman, June 13:

American education

Re: May 25 column "Will America let brightest students slip away?"

Thomas L. Friedman laments the fact that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduated many Ph.D. students from foreign countries.

In years gone by, a distinction was made in the United States between the very bright and the (let's say it) stupid public school student. Political correctness no longer permits this distinction.

In our attempt to educate all students at the same level and require equal prerequisites for all, we educate no one to their highest level. We must admit that the notion of all children having the same intellectual potential is ridiculous, or we will continue to lose ground.

An example of this absurdity is how the salutatorian of one school is admitted to any college in Texas, but the 11th-rated student of another school is not. It's possible the 11th-rated student is much smarter.

ED STEVENS

My response:

Speaking as a "stupid public school student" myself, I have to sympathize with the problem Ed Stevens describes. It is hard not to be allowed into your choice of college. I graduated from a public school in Amarillo in the top sixth percentile, came to UT, and immediately entered one of the top ten Computer Science programs in the nation. I probably took up a desk that rightfully belonged to a "much smarter" student.

But I strongly disagree with Stevens' assertion that this admissions process is absurd. There is no better way to make the decision. The alternatives appear to be a single, all-important IQ test, such as the SAT, or a subjective method which seems to depend on who the student's parents are.

However, there are many other fine colleges without such discriminatory policies. Perhaps Yale would appreciate a smart student who did not happen to make the top grades in high school.

Tommy McGuire, Ph.D.

What the Statesman printed:

Not so stupid

Re: June 13 letter "American education."

As a "stupid public school student", I have to sympathize with the problem that the letter writer describes. It is hard not to be allowed into your choice of college.

I graduated from a public school in Amarillo in the top sixth percentile, went to the University of Texas, and immediately entered one of the top 10 computer science programs in the nation. I probably took up a desk that rightfully belonged to a "much smarter" student.

But I strongly disagree with Stevens' assertion that this admissions process is absurd. There is no better way to make the decision. The alternatives appear to be a single, all-important test of knowledge, such as the SAT, or a subjective method which seems to depend on who the student's parents are.

However, there are many other fine colleges without such discriminatory policies. Perhaps Yale would appreciate a smart student who did not happen to make the top grades in high school.

By changing "all-important IQ test" to "all-important test of knowledge", they made the assertion factually incorrect as well as altered my meaning.

gloria i ad inferni
faciamus opus

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Last edited Sat Aug 8 03:29:10 2009.
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