Early-decision benefits schools

By the time you read this, high school seniors have learned if they were accepted at the schools they applied to (“The Decision That Hurts Your Chances of Getting Into Harvard,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29).  What they don’t know is that they have been used as pawns.

I say that because of the importance since 1983 of U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking issue.  Although schools take great pride in being selective, they’re actually more concerned about yield.  That’s the percentage of students offered admission who actually attend.  Selectivity and yield are related, but they are not synonymous. The former is the percentage of students that a college rejects.  Yield is the percentage of students who accept a college. No college or university wants to be rejected after they say yes.  By publicizing early-decision, which is binding, schools shield themselves from that possibility.  (Early-action also is to the advantage of schools, but it is not binding.)

The downside to early-decision is that once locked in, high school seniors who need financial aid – and they are growing in numbers – don’t have the freedom to explore opportunities.  As a result, the most affluent students from the most exclusive schools are the ones most rewarded.  The odds of being accepted at a marquee-name school are high enough without making them even higher through early-decision.  But as long as admissions officers live or die by rankings in U.S. News & World Report, with yield being a heavily weighted factor,

the game will continue,

Yet it’s hard to change the mindset of high school seniors.  They know what the data show.  For example, Dartmouth expects students admitted through early-decision next fall to comprise nearly half of its freshman class.  With that in mind, few applicants are willing to apply through regular-decision.  I don’t blame them under the circumstances.  But I think they need to be aware of the financial downsides.

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2 Replies to “Early-decision benefits schools”

  1. I’ve long disliked the idea that colleges can/do so easily charge different students different prices for the same product — at least to the extent that the different prices are based on the students’ relative financial need.

    When a store sells a TV or a gallon of milk, all the customers pay the same price for the product regardless of the customers’ relative financial need. Even airlines — a most extreme example of differential pricing for the same product — do not directly consider the customers’ relative financial need when setting the different prices.

    If markets are working consistent with economic theory, a seller should not be able to charge different customers different prices for the same product.

    When colleges charge different prices based on financial need, the college is — directly or indirectly — forcing the more affluent students to subsidize the less affluent students. Seems that society as a whole — probably acting through the govt — should be providing the sliding-scale subsidies rather than the colleges (or the affluent students).

    If the govt, rather than the colleges, provided the sliding-scale subsidies, then the early-decision concept would not discriminate against the less affluent students.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Charging students differently is nothing new in higher education. We’ve always had grants, scholarships etc. What’s different today is the obsession with college for all. As a result, students who lack the necessary skills drop out, regardless of how much financial help they receive.

    Colleges and universities hate to admit this. They much prefer talking about their selectivity and yield. Such metrics are effective marketing ploys, but they don’t reveal the entire truth. Too many of them are little more than glorified high schools. I expect the situation to worsen.

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