Walt Gardner writes for the Martin Center about one school in which meritocracy still holds sway.

All that matters at Cal Tech is a proven record of aptitude to handle rigorous academic work. As a result, racial diversity is noticeably absent.

Despite intense pressure to bring the school in line, Cal Tech has refused to bend its standards. That means no preference is given to athletes, legacies, development cases, or racial minorities. Being rich, famous, or well-connected counts for naught. All that matters is enrolling the most academically advanced and accomplished students with a passion for science. Although all four factors are highly controversial in today’s cutthroat competition for admission at elite colleges, it’s race that is the most incendiary.

Cal Tech is indifferent to what other colleges do in this regard. It’s not that it hasn’t tried to recruit underrepresented minorities. On the contrary. However, it won’t alter its commitment to admitting only those students whose academic credentials it alone deems worthy. As a result, Asians constitute more than 40 percent of its undergraduate student body. That would be unthinkable at any other college.

Its refusal to grant legacy preferences or development cases as virtually all other colleges do has resulted in relatively low alumni giving, compared to the Ivies and other marquee-name schools. But generous governmental, corporate, and individual funding has propelled Cal Tech ahead of the Ivies in its general, per-student financial resource picture.

That’s another reason why Cal Tech doesn’t recruit athletes: It doesn’t need to. Although it knows that competitive sports, particularly football and basketball, can be cash cows, they have also compromised academics at even the nation’s most elite institutions. That’s a price Cal Tech won’t pay.

Cal Tech can afford to march to its own drum because it has produced world-class scientists and researchers, positioning itself among the top half-dozen universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.