What do you call a Division I school that doesn’t lower its admission standards to admit star athletes?
While many people condemn any consideration of race in college admissions, few complain about the routine acceptance of lower-performing student athletes admitted because of their outstanding abilities on the field rather than in the classroom.
In an investigation three years ago of admission standards for athletes, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that football players average 220 points lower on the SAT than their classmates — and men’s basketball players average seven points less than football players.
At the University of Georgia, the average football SAT was 949, which was 239 points behind the average for an undergraduate student at Georgia at the time. The Bulldogs’ average high school GPA was 2.77, or 45th out of 53 big-time college teams for which football GPAs were available.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to revisit the issue of race-conscience admissions policies is sparking new discussions of admission standards and deviations.
The court last addressed race in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision. In a 5-4 vote, the court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School, saying that the Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”
In Fisher v. Texas, a far more conservative court will now take up the claim of a white student who said she lost a spot at the University of Texas Austin because of her race.
Under the “talented 10” policy, students in the top 10 percent of any Texas high school are assured admittance to any state institution of higher learning.
Abigail Fisher was not among the top 10 percent of her class, but contends that she would have merited admission in the general applicant pool had it not been for racial preferences.
“Teaching students that their skin color is what defines them should not be part of the curriculum at public universities,” said Joshua P. Thompson, of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a brief urging the court to take the Fisher case.
“A policy of race-based preferences and discrimination in admissions is not just unfair, it is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” he said.
But are college admissions ever fair, given how many exceptions are made, including the lower bar for top athletes and the little-discussed benefits accrued to “legacy” students whose parents and grandparents attended the school or to children of a celebrity or potential donor?
Could it be that Abigail Fisher lost her spot in Austin to the daughter of a Texas legislator, the son of a country-western star or a placekicker with a 50-yard range?
In a study of legacy admissions at prestigious Duke University, researchers Nathan D. Martin and Kenneth I. Spenner found that these students trail their peers in academic credentials: “The average SAT score for legacies is about 40 points lower than students with professional degree parents, and about 12 points lower than students with other degree parents.”
An editorial earlier this month in the independent Duke student newspaper, the Chronicle, attacked legacy admissions, noting that children of alumni made up 20.4 percent of students in 2008, and 13 percent of the graduating class of 2015.
The editorial said, “Duke’s legacy admissions policy is not only unfair but unjustified. Because Duke cannot rationalize its legacy policy on the grounds of financial necessity or community enrichment, the admissions process should no longer grant any consideration whatsoever to legacy status.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog