Prof wants to 'blow up meritocracy' with 'admissions lottery'

To “solve the problem of meritocracy,” one professor argues that elite universities should use an “admissions lottery” to select which students they accept.

Joseph Soares, who teaches in the department of Sociology at Wake Forest University, advanced the claim in an article for the Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, in which he argues that college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT “are predictively weak and biased, stigmatizing minorities as underperformers” and should therefore be disregarded.

Instead, citing the “predictive superiority of high school grades” in determining students’ performance in a college setting, Soares endorses a proposal  to “blow up meritocracy with an admissions lottery” advanced by Dr. Natasha Marikoo in 2016.

The winners, Soares later explains, would be randomly drawn from among a pool of applicants whose grades were in the top 10 percent at their high schools.

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“It is time to acknowledge that elite college advantages are not earned by our ‘meritocracy,’ and one very powerful way to teach America a lesson about randomness and life chances would be to pick our winners via a lottery drawn from the top 10 per cent of each high school,” Soares argues.

Further, he writes that “if ‘elite’ colleges will not adopt a lottery system, at minimum they should drop their SAT/ACT requirements,” since those tests “uphold a reverse discrimination lens that gives us a flawed vision of diversity as a trade-off between excellence and equity.”

Soares explained to Campus Reform that ever since he wrote his second book, The Power of Privilege, he’s been troubled by the way that “meritocracy” has been “used as a self-congratulatory pat on the back for privileged social groups.”

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“Elite colleges are interested in selecting youths based on ‘merit’ but the concept is always measured in a way that conflates SES [socio-economic status] with merit,” Soares told Campus Reform. “The ‘best and the brightest’ just happen to come from America's wealthiest families. Test score selection, because SAT/ACT scores correlate more reliably with demographic attributes than with college achievements, is a convenient lie that disguises social Darwinism as a fair meritocratic contest.”

While most American colleges are not particularly difficult to gain acceptance into, Soares believes admission to elite colleges should be guided by high school GPA or class rank, a metric that would work more in favor of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

“That way, selective colleges would get excellent students who couldn't claim or think of themselves as having been selected as ‘the best of the best,’ but just as the lucky among the many deserving,” he elaborated, positing that a lottery system would also “enhance social empathy and facilitate the expansion of human rights toward a more just, caring, and egalitarian world.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen