Friday, October 19, 2012
Incentives & Risk-Taking in Admissions
But, for the sake of argument (and so that I have something to write about today), let's assume that the above situation holds for at least a hefty percentage of the mildly selective institutions in the U.S. In this case, there is an incentive for an institution to minimize risk by only admitting those students that (a) seem nearly certain to succeed or (b) are relatively likely to persist to graduation and won't cost the university too much money if they aren't retained. Clearly, a system like this decreases the likelihood that certain students will be admitted. And, it raises questions about these institutions' commitment to educating more than just a very narrow segment of the prospective student population.
What if, however, institutions were rewarded for taking risks in the admissions process? What if there was some kind of incentive for an institution to admit a slightly underprepared student, provide a high-quality experience to that student, and achieve some measurable level of success with that student (e.g. graduation, job placement, etc.)? Not only would a system like this one change the admissions game dramatically and provide more students with access to institutions where, previously, they would never have been accepted. It would also encourage institutions to be more thoughtful about the resources and initiatives they have in place to support students that may not be as academically prepared as others.
As it stands, there really isn't much incentive at all for institutions to take risks in the admissions process (outside of situations involving student-athletes). And, often, the institutions that are viewed as most "prestigious" are those that rather than taking risks and seeking out students to whom they can add value, admit those who are a "good investment" and who are likely to make the institution look good.