Thoughts On College Fools` Day

April Fools` Day is
the traditional deadline for American colleges to mail
out to applicants their letters of acceptance (thick) or
rejection (thin).

The admissions
process has been more frenzied than ever this year.

has rejected an unprecedented

91 percent
of its record 23,000 applicants.
Remarkably, more than 3,000 Harvard wannabes were ranked
first in their high school class. The university
probably turned down over half of these valedictorians.

Many other elite
colleges also saw

new highs
in applications received. This is due both
to the growing convenience of applying to multiple
colleges using the

Common Application
website, and to the

national (and even

) competition among students to attend a
prestigious American college.

administrations spend vast amounts of money recruiting
top high school students. The administrators know that
the surest way to acquire

smarter, harder-working alumni
, who can afford to
donate more money to the old alma mater, is to
bring in smarter, harder-working

in the first place.

Doing a better job of recruiting is much more likely
to have a sizable payoff than trying to do a better job of, well,

the kind of students you already get.

Funny thing about
America`s college admission mania: we all know we may be
buying a

pig in a poke
at vast expense. It`s daunting to try
to find

hard data
to distinguish between those colleges that
do a good job teaching undergraduates and those that
don`t. Universities are ranked on the fame of their
graduate schools, the success of their
football and

basketball teams
, and, tellingly, the test scores
and GPAs that their undergrads earned back in high
school—not on how much value they add to their
undergrads once they`re admitted.

And elite rhetoric
about public issues almost never reflects these
hard-earned lessons of private life. America`s most
prestigious colleges scrounge for the best students and
our most influential citizens connive to get their
children in to schools with the best students. But the
notion that

America`s immigration policy
, for instance, should
roughly resemble college admissions programs in

attempting to exclude the untalented
is denounced as
pure racism by the very same people who spend hundreds
of thousands to send their kids to

expensive prep schools
and the

Ivy League.

Similarly, we are
constantly assured by our social betters that "all we
have to do"
to alleviate the

social decay
caused by illegal immigration is to

"fix the schools."

(As if anybody actually knew how to do that with schools

by unskilled immigrant students.) But
pointing out that the people who tell us this are
simultaneously making prodigious efforts to get their
own children into schools and colleges reserved for the
most skilled is considered in the worst of taste. It`s
just not done.

One curious aspect
of the college craziness: the seeming self-contempt with
which white students at many elite colleges derisively
refer to the predominantly white makeup of their
schools` student bodies.

Take the Princeton
Review`s Best 361 Colleges guidebook,

summarizes students` opinions of their schools. An
undergrad at

well known

Colorado College
in Colorado Springs, a school that
is only two percent black, declares: "The typical
Colorado College student is white and from an
upper-middle-class home in a metropolitan suburb, but
wishes this weren`t true …"

It`s common for
students quoted in Best 361 Colleges to lament
the lack of ethnic diversity on their campuses, and to
call for their administrations to do more to bring in

Is this the much
discussed (but surprisingly little observed) phenomenon

White Guilt?
Or is something else going on?

As we`ve seen, the
college application game is all about status
competition. The primary point of getting into Harvard
is to

prove you could get into Harvard
. So, it`s
implausible that most white students at elite colleges
believe that their schools would be improved if their
personal spots were given to minorities. I`ve never
heard of a single white student at a prestigious college
who has withdrawn to open up a space for a black or

No, affirmative
action quotas befall

other white people

… loser white people

who didn`t get in.
The white students complaining
about a lack of diversity are the winners who are

In his witty book Diversity: The Invention of a Concept,

Peter Wood
points out that college admissions
offices slather pictures of minority students in
disproportionate numbers all over their recruiting
brochures (with the

U. of Wisconsin
notoriously Photoshopping in a

black student`s face
into an all-white crowd at a
football game) for two reasons.

  • For minority high
    school students, "diversity" is a code word
    in recruiting materials reassuring them that they
    will enjoy some

    ethnic homogeneity
    on campus, that there will be

    just like themselves
    to hang out with.

  • For white teens,
    however, "diversity" promises the prestige of
    the exotic, an escape from the vast

    white middle class suburbs
    where they grew up to
    a more exciting and elite world.

Flipping through
college guidebooks, you notice an odd pattern: colleges
with relatively large percentages of black and Hispanic
students are found either at the bottom of the barrel
(e.g., at

Cal State Dominguez Hills
, which is 68 percent black
or Latino, only

14 percent

score over 500 on the SAT Verbal test); or
at the pinnacle of prestige among famous schools with
gigantic endowments.

For instance, you
might assume that Stanford (59
of whose freshmen score over 700 on the
Verbal SAT) would have only modest appeal to
African-Americans because it is located in the heart of

Silicon Valley,
where the local black community is
miniscule. Well, don`t underestimate what a

$12 billion endowment
can buy. Stanford typically
ranks at the very top of glamour colleges in percent of
blacks (10
) and Hispanics (11 percent).

, which has a similarly sized endowment, is
9 percent

and 7 percent Hispanic.

In other words,

minority students (especially blacks) are
a status symbol that only the ultra-rich colleges can
afford in percentages approaching their share of the
population. The merely rich have to scrape by fewer

Luring the small
numbers of blacks and Hispanics who are at least
quasi-qualified into applying and enrolling at your
elite college is an extremely expensive

zero sum game

Wesleyan U. will
fly minority high school seniors for free across the
continent to visit its Connecticut campus. And yet, a

official admitted: 

all of our competitors are aggressively recruiting black
students, but the pool hasn`t grown. Our peers are
picking students right out of our pocket."

Top colleges have
no way to

expand the number of qualified blacks and Hispanics.

So they launch recruiting arms races against each other.

Wesleyan alumni magazine

"Competition to
attract the most qualified African American students,
regardless of their origin, is every bit as intense as
the effort to recruit top athletes. Data from the
College Board shows that 1,877 African American students
nationwide scored higher than 1300 out of 1600 on the
SAT in 2003. Figures on the percentage of African
American students accepted at the nation`s 25
highest-ranking liberal arts colleges underscore how
eagerly these top students are sought. …

Middlebury College
leads the pack with a 68 percent
acceptance rate of African Americans

[versus only 24% for
all applicants to Middlebury, the #5 ranked liberal arts
college] …  In a highly competitive environment,
Thornton points out, it is essential that Wesleyan take
chances on students whose academic records may fall
short, but who show promise in other ways."

That is, they
“show promise”
of, oh, say, being a minority.

Similarly, as the
Los Angeles Times reported in April 2003,
Berkeley flies 500 non-Asian minority high school
students with lower test scores from Los Angeles to the
Bay Area to visit Berkeley. [Berkeley
Makes Its Pitch to Top Minority Students
, By
Carol Pogash, April 20, 2003]

I hadn`t realized,
though, just what a hamster wheel waste of the
California taxpayers` money these programs are until I
learned that the main purpose of the

Fly to Berkeley
program is to keep the kids from
enrolling at Berkeley`s twin sister public college—UCLA!

Affirmative action
in colleges exists less for the benefit of the

descendents of slaves
than for the self-image of the
universities. This is demonstrated by the

remarkably high proportion
of black students at the
richest college of all, Harvard, whose ancestors were
never in bondage in America. A June 24, 2004 New York
story, "Top
Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?
Sara Rimer and Karen W. Arenson reported:

“While about 8
percent, or about 530, of Harvard`s undergraduates were

Lani Guinier
, a Harvard law professor, and Henry
Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard`s African and
African-American studies

, pointed out that the majority of
them—perhaps as many as two-thirds—were

West Indian

African immigrants
or their children, or to a lesser
extent, children of

biracial couples.
They said that only about a third
of the students were from families in which all four
grandparents were born in this country, descendants of

Even more bizarre
is the general acquiescence in affirmative action quotas
for Hispanics.

, American Hispanics`

were never in the U.S. to be oppressed.
But, for reasons that are inexplicable to me, opponents
of affirmative action elect to fight their battles over
quotas for African-Americans, rather than attack the

indefensible weak spot
of the affirmative action
regime: preferences for immigrants.

Still—why not?
Nothing else about American higher education makes much
sense either.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
features his daily