Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Editorial: Early decision could jeopardize schools’ economic diversity

Northwestern administrators frequently fret about the university’s image in the educational world and in the minds of prospective students. They were so concerned this fall that they turned to a refurbished logo and a carefully crafted “brand essence statement” to boost NU’s appeal. So it should come as some relief that the number of early decision applicants jumped 23 percent this year and the number of early acceptances climbed commensurately. NU must be popular again, and we’ll probably get the lofty U.S. News and World Report ranking to proclaim our new selectivity.

But there is reason to look skeptically at the flood of early applications, even as we pat ourselves on the back. Early decision is a boon to universities, allowing them to lock up top applicants early, control class size, appear more selective and then watch their rankings soar. But there is widespread concern among critics in universities and the press that the process benefits applicants already on the academic fast-track, especially those who don’t need to shop around for the best financial aid package. In other words, white, wealthy students from good high schools with strong college placement offices and well-connected families are the most likely to apply early. As early decision often increases the chance of admission – some say equivalent to gaining 100 SAT points – they have a distinct advantage. But students with less guidance navigating the admissions process and who need to apply to multiple schools to compare aid packages get squeezed.

Although NU’s number of early decision applicants is rising, it is still well below that of some Ivy League schools, and the Office of Admissions remains relatively unconcerned about the elitist slant of the process. Corrections for any imbalance can be made in the regular decision round of admissions, said Associate Provost for University Enrollment Rebecca Dixon, including for applications to the School of Music and the Honors Program in Medical Education, which rarely come in early.

But NU should scrutinize its early decision policy. No less prominent a pundit than the president of Yale University has called for an end to early decision. While that is probably not appropriate for NU, the inequality inherent in the early decision process makes it a looming threat to our racial and socio-economic diversity. And while we have little doubt that admissions officers are aware of the need to provide racial diversity, through recruitment if necessary, socio-economic diversity is less emphasized, though no less important.

There are exceptions, of course. In Cambridge, Mass., officials recently announced a plan to desegregate the city’s elementary schools by class instead of race. Using family income as a determinant, the school system will construct economically mixed classes for its 7,300 elementary students. The city joins San Francisco, Charlotte, Raleigh, N.C., and La Crosse, Wis., in supporting the idea that economic diversity is as important to academic achievement, if not more so, than racial diversity.

The experiment, 1,000 miles away, is instructive as Evanston/Skokie School District 65 grapples with a proposal to do away with the busing system that keeps its elementary schools racially integrated. We do not propose a similar system here – we have called for D65 to continue its busing system and also to build a new school in the predominately black Fifth Ward – but it is important to remember that there is more to diversity than race.

It is easy to overlook under-represented minorities when they don’t stand out in a crowd. But offering an education to students from every part of the socio-economic spectrum should be part of the mission of every institution, be it an elementary school or a major research university. Not only does it conform to basic notions of fairness and the importance of upward mobility, but, as with race, the mixing of a diverse population in an academic setting is both educational and instrumental in breaking down prejudices.

Socio-economic diversity might not send our U.S. News ranking into the stratosphere, but it is worth our time to fret about it.

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Editorial: Early decision could jeopardize schools’ economic diversity