COMMENTARY | According to Inside Higher Ed, Harvard PhD student Rachel Rubin has found evidence that many colleges and universities differ substantially on what they look for in applicants. While most of the universities studied by Rubin were private, some were public “flagship” universities like University of Michigan and University of Texas, which are sometimes known as “public Ivies” for their prestigious nature being deemed comparable to Ivy League schools.
Many colleges and universities turn out to focus heavily on “institutional fit,” a vague and ever-shifting matrix of factors separate from academics. While schools should indeed take non-academic factors into account when determining who gets admitted, the fact that a college degree is increasingly necessary today places increasing burdens on colleges and universities to ensure equality of access. Because a four-year degree is no longer a luxury in a society that demands ever higher levels of education, admissions processes should be more transparent. “Institutional fit,” because it is judged of just about everyone nowadays, should no longer be an abstract known only to the few who work in admissions offices.
Even private schools, if they are sufficiently large or prestigious, should be made to increase the transparency of their admissions processes. This is because our nation’s Ivy League universities, most notably Harvard and Yale, are gateways to government, politics, and public leadership. Most of America’s presidents and Supreme Court justices, as well as large percentages of its legislatures, have received Ivy League educations. If our tax dollars are going to pay the salaries of the men and women who write handsome alumni checks to Ivy League schools as both contributions and tuition checks for their children, shouldn’t we have an idea of what “institutional fit” means?
As college education becomes ever closer to being a universal requirement for middle-class jobs and attaining the American dream, the factors that determine who gets to attend where can no longer be kept in the dark. Because so many leadership positions and opportunities are determined by connections one makes in the halls of an Ivy League or similar institution, and many such opportunities are funded directly or indirectly by taxpayer dollars, we the taxpayers should have a better idea of who is, and who will be, granted entry to those halls. Schools that use “institutional fit” as a major part of their admissions rubric must consider themselves part of the public discourse.