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I&I/TIPP Poll: Americans Want Merit, Not ‘Woke’ Politics, To Decide College Admissions

For more on this topic and others you can also go to Tipp Insights.

America’s colleges and universities increasingly use non-academic criteria, including gender, family income and race, to decide who gets admitted and who doesn’t. It’s a trend most Americans seem to deeply dislike, the latest I&I/TIPP Poll shows.

Parents want their kids to face a merit-based admissions policy, over one that is for the lack of a better word, woke.

Indeed, if parents’ preferences mattered to institutions of higher education, schools would be making their admission decisions on such merit-based standards as academic achievements and aptitude, not woke criteria such as race and income or whether an applicant has famous parents.

I&I/TIPP asked American adults a simple question: “To what extent do you support or oppose colleges and universities using the following factors to make admission decisions?”

They then provided the following nine possible college admission criteria: “Race or ethnicity,” “Gender,” “Whether a parent went to the school,” “High school grades,” “Extracurricular activities,” “Athletic ability,” “Household income,” “The applicant is the child of a famous person,” “SAT/ACT scores.”

Possible answers included “Support strongly,” “Support somewhat,” “Oppose somewhat,” “Oppose strongly” and “Not sure.”

By grouping the “Support” answers and comparing them to the “Oppose” answers a clear message emerges: American parents and prospective parents want their kids to face a merit-based admissions policy to colleges and universities, not one that is woke.

Three categories garnered 50% or higher support among all Americans: “High school grades” (76%), “SAT/ACT scores” (67%), and “Extracurricular activities” (50%). Note that all three require individual effort and excellence.

Support falls off for the other six categories. “Athletic ability” gets 40% support, “Household income” gets 30%, “Race or ethnicity” receives 26%, “Gender” wins just 23% support, “Whether or not a parent went to the school” gains an even-lower 21% support, and, dead last, “The applicant is the child of a famous person” straggles in with only 17% support.

Conversely, a majority of poll respondents said they opposed admissions favoring “The applicant is the child of a famous person” (73%), “Whether or not a parent went to the school” (69%), “Gender” (66%), “Race or ethnicity” (64%), “Household income” (61%), and “Athletic ability” (50%). The remainder were all under 50%: “Extracurricular activities,” 38%, “SAT/ACT scores”, 25%, and “High school grades,” 15%.

Some other very interesting trends shine forth from the data.

Take the support for “Household income” as a criterion for admission. It might be presumed that those at lower incomes would support this strongly, since it would give a leg up to poorer and lower-middle class students.

But that’s not so. Indeed, virtually all income groups are nearly identical in support: Under $30K (30%), $30K-$50K (31%), $50K-$75K (30%) and over $75K (30%).

Other results:

  • Fewer women (21%) than men (26%) support using “Gender” as part of the admissions process.
  • African-Americans mostly support the meritocratic view that grades (74%), test scores (59%) and extracurricular activities (56%) should be what matters. But they also come close with athletics (49% support), perhaps because that has been a traditional and highly successful avenue for disadvantaged minority youths to gain college admissions.
  • Also, African-Americans are marginally more likely to support race as an admission criterion (43%) when compared to white Americans (22%). But that’s still not a majority, and more (45%) oppose it.
  • By political affiliation, Democrats gave 38% support to using race as an admission factor, roughly twice the level of both Republicans (17%) and independents. And Democrats were the only party that gave majority support (58%) to including “Extracurricular activities” in the higher education admission process, compared to 46% of Republicans and 45% of independents.
  • The older the respondent, the more likely they were to support meritocratic admission over income, race, gender and other factors. 87% of those over 65, for instance, supported using grades for admission, more than ten percentage points higher than any other age group. Oldsters were also more likely than other age groups to strongly support use of test scores (76%), compared to 69% for those aged 45-64, 63% for those 25-44, and 52% for those 18-24.

Questions of who gets admitted to higher education and who doesn’t are more important than ever. IRS data show that “Men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more.”

That’s a huge difference, leading to enormous gaps in economic outcomes for individuals.

But, say many education critics, identity politics, or the idea that one’s ethnic, religious, sexual, or racial identity should trump such objective criteria as test scores and grades, is really behind the trend.

As such, practices such as affirmative action and active discrimination against high-performing Asian-American applicants have come under withering fire and are actively being challenged in the nation’s high courts as unconstitutional.

Currently, both Harvard and the University of North Carolina are being sued by a group of Asian students in federal court for discriminating against highly qualified applicants solely because of their race.

As Tipp Insights wrote back in November:

Critics of the plaintiffs insist that Harvard’s limiting Asian Americans is fair if representation arithmetic is considered. At about 12.4% of the population, Blacks are nearly 16% of the class of 2025. Asian Americans are over-represented at 26% of the student body, although they form only 7% of the population.

But this line of thinking falls flat if one asks: Why is a student’s race relevant in college admissions? Would Asian Americans’ seat-share climb if Harvard and other east coast schools relaxed the artificial throttles on Asian American admissions?

Over the years, polling data have consistently shown most Americans oppose such non-merit-based favoritism, especially for race. Meanwhile, Research casts doubts on whether this system of preferences helps anyone at all, even the supposed beneficiaries.

Yet it persists, and the cost of obtaining a university education soars. The average per year “sticker price” for a college education in 2021 was $54,880 for private universities, and $26,820 for public universities. Parents continue to spend exorbitant amounts to avoid having their kids handicapped in life by lack of a college degree.

All the polling data above come from the monthly I&I/TIPP Poll. It was conducted online from Feb. 2-4 and includes responses from 1,355 adults nationwide. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points.

Each month, the I&I/TIPP Poll will provide timely and informative data on topic’s such as this one and others of major interest. TIPP has earned a reputation for excellence by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.

Terry Jones is editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.

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Terry Jones

Terry Jones was part of Investor's Business Daily from its inception in 1983, working in a variety of posts, including reporter, economics correspondent, National Issues editor and economics editor. Most recently, from 1996 to 2019, he served as associate editor of the newspaper and deputy editor and editor of IBD's Issues & Insights. His many media appearances include spots on the Larry Kudlow, Bill O’Reilly, Dennis Miller, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Glenn Beck shows. He also served as Free Markets columnist for Townhall Magazine, and as a weekly guest on PJTV’s The Front Page. He holds both bachelor's and master's degrees from UCLA, and is an Abraham Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute


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