by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Last Wednesday, Columbia University formally announced that it would no longer require SAT/ACT scores for its applicants. It will permit applicants to submit test scores, but its stated criteria for candidate evaluation has become . . . holistic. Or, in its words, “purposeful and nuanced — respecting varied backgrounds, voices and experiences — in order to best determine an applicant’s suitability for admission and ability to thrive in our curriculum and our community, and to advance access to our educational opportunities.” Columbia isn’t the first institution of higher learning to make standardized-testing requirements optional, but it is the first Ivy League university to do so.
To be clear: Everyone in the world of academia understands this to be a pretext, and a shabby one at that. What Columbia is doing, and what more elite universities may do in the immediate future, is preparing itself for the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, cases argued jointly before the Court last October. The upcoming decision is expected, given the composition of the Court, to either strike down or severely limit the sorts of explicit affirmative-action regimes employed by college admissions ever since 2003’s egregious Grutter v. Bollinger decision. At stake here is the possessiveness elite universities (both public and private) feel over their ability to directly shape the racial and social (and now even political) demography of their matriculating classes. Choosing the composition of tomorrow’s new elite — which is what admissions committees understand themselves to be doing — is a privilege these institutions guard jealously. …
… [T]esting is the great equalizer. This is not mere supposition; clinical studies have shown that standardized testing does exactly what you expected it would: It identifies intellectually gifted children from all strata of society, but even more crucially allows talented children from disadvantaged backgrounds (whether economic or minority) to shine in a way their local educational opportunities (or a chaotic home life) might never have permitted.