January 18, 2007

And now for something completely controversial

I'm not going to let Charles Murray have all the fun this week. He may be a lot smarter than me, but I know better than to take a saw with me when I go out on a limb. Advantage me.

Now that everyone is talking about IQ and cognitive ability, let's take a look at what the composition of an elite college like Harvard might look like if admission were based solely on cognitive ability. This means we'll ignore the distortion effects caused by affirmative action and legacy admissions.

La Griffe has already done the heavy computational lifting here, so I'll just steal his analysis:

Harvard reports 6704 undergraduate degree students for Fall 1998. Of these 472 (about 7 percent) were international students, leaving 6232 Americans. We estimated the number of freshman seats open to Americans as 1/4 this number or 1558. (The precise number is not essential.) Filling these slots in rank order of cognitive ability from the pool of all American 18-year-olds, we calculated Harvard's ethnic percentages based on merit alone.The percentages are shown in Table 4, from which we note immediately that the predicted Asian and Jewish enrollment is remarkably close to that reported by Unz and Buchanan.
African American 0.07 %
Hispanic 0.4 %
Asian/Pacific Islander 17.0 %
Jewish 27.9 %
non-Jewish, non-Hispanic white 54.6 %
Subtotal of all non-Hispanic whites 82.5 %
Table 4. Harvard undergraduate enrollment percentages, by ethnicity, resulting from a meritocratic admissions policy.

This means that in each freshman class only one black and six Hispanic students would get in Harvard based on cognitive ability alone. The result is the perceived need for affirmative action set-asides. Harvard sets aside about 16% of its freshman slots (and additional 242 seats) for black and Hispanic students.

The question is: is this a good thing?

Bearing in mind that these 242 students, due to their lesser cognitive ability and fierce competition, will likely find themselves at the bottom of the graduating class, assuming they graduate at all.

Also bear in mind that these aren't dumb kids all of them have the cognitive ability to succeed in college though perhaps not at a Harvard. Does it do them a disservice to send them to a college where they will likely perform poorly as opposed to a lesser college where they would likely thrive?

How about the seven kids who got there based on cognitive ability and now have their achievement tainted? They certainly can't be happy.

Lastly, bear in mind that today's college freshman were all born in the late 80s, not exactly a time of Jim Crow-like discrimination.

So, notwithstanding the yet to be proven benefits of "diversity," where is the compelling reason to admit cognitively unqualified students to elite universities? (It's not a questions of getting them into any college; you only need a pulse to get into most colleges.)



TurbineGuy said...

First your against him. Now your for him.

Seriously, I have noticed that educationalist tend to fall into 4 categories.

1. Those who don't believe in IQ difference and think that its the underlying social ills that causes low performance. (the establishment)

2. Those that believe in IQ differences, but think that education reform can compensate for differences (this is me)

3. Those who believe in IQ differences, and think that we should just write off the lower scoring people (Murray and Derbyshire)

There may be some more variations on this, but I think this pretty much covers the major views.

Anonymous said...

Rory, I can't resist ... :-)

and ... #4) Those who disdain basic math skills like counting.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

He clearly didn't pay much attention in college. The oversimplistic "one quarter of students are freshman" computation assumes that nobody ever drops out of college. Oh but "the exact number doesn't matter"! Then he goes on to specifically argue about the specifics within the numbers that "don't matter."

I hope everyone is laughing now. I mean please, according to this rubric Bill Gates -- Harvard drop-out -- can't possibly exist!

TurbineGuy said...


The real numbers are:


Entering Freshman Class 2002: 1,647

4 year Graduation rate (class of 2002) 86.7%

6 year Graduation rate at Harvard: 98%

Your welcome to run the numbers:

You can also see this years entering Freshman class:


Enrollment: 1,684

White: 57.5%
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate nonresident aliens. Nonresident aliens are excluded from counts for racial/ethnic categories. 591
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate black, non-Hispanics. 553
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate American Indians/Alaskan natives. 53
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate Asians/Pacific Islanders. 1,192
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate Hispanics. 501
Number of degree-seeking undergraduate white, non-Hispanics. 3,197
Number of degree-seeking undergraduates whose race/ethnicity is unknown. 526
Total number of degree-seeking undergraduates across all racial/ethnic categories. 6,613

Somehow after all the updated numbers are run, I suspect the results will be pretty much the same.

Anonymous said...

This was too long for a comment, so see here.

KDeRosa said...

Anon, you need to run the numbers for yourself to see that you are mistaken. Even if Harvard accepted twice as many students it would not significantly affect the percentages even at this extreme a position of the IQ distribution. That's why the exact numbers don't matter. The relative group distributions will be about the same.

And your comment on Bill Gates seems to be a non sequitur. Can you explain?

Joanne Jacobs said...

At elite colleges, few students drop out for academic reasons. Harvard's 98 percent graduation rate shows few students drop out for any reason.

At second-tier schools there are significant differences in graduation rates between whites/Asians and blacks/Hispanics.

KDeRosa said...

Graduation rates are bad enough. but some professions have mandatory exams that candidates must pass to practice in the profession -- like the bar and medical exams.

The pass rates for these exams are also highly correlated with IQ. So, there are still profound group diferences even for students who had the smarts and gumption to graduate from college but who could not pass the profession's exam.

See here

TangoMan said...

Read through this blog analysis to discover which is the most under-represented constituency on the Harvard campus.