Elite College and Average College

In a July 8 opinion piece in the New York Times (Opinion | For Most College Students, Affirmative Action Was Never Enough – The New York Times (nytimes.com) ), the authors report that only 6% of all college students attend a highly selective or elite college with an acceptance rate of 25% or less. A majority of students attend average colleges with admission rates between 70% and 80%. Many people believe that graduation from an elite college is a guarantee of a successful first job or of admission to a graduate or professional school. Conversely, they believe that a graduate of an average college will have poor prospects of beginning a satisfying career or of gaining admission to a graduate or professional school. However, all is not lost for a student who must attend an average college because she was denied admission to an elite college.

Consider the following fictional model of two very bright students, A and B, who apply to college. A is admitted to an elite college, while B, who is rejected by an elite college, enrolls in an average college. Most of A’s elite college classmates are also very bright students. Most of B’s average college classmates are average students. Suppose both A and B graduate at the same time. A will have a 50% chance of graduating from an elite college in the bottom half of her class of very bright students. B will have a high probability of graduating with honors from an average college near the top of her class of average students. B, who w/ill graduate from an average college as a big fish in a small pond, will be just as proud of her alma mater as A, who w/ill graduate from an elite college as a small fish in a big pond, will be of her alma mater. In fact, B who graduated near the top of the class from an average college may have career prospects no less favorable than A who graduated from an elite college in the bottom half of the class.

About the Author
Ted Sheskin is a professor emeritus of industrial engineering at Cleveland State University, and the author of a textbook, Markov Chains and Decision Processes for Engineers and Managers. He has published peer-reviewed papers on engineering systems and mathematical algorithms. His letters to editors addressing politics, economic policy, and issues facing Israel and American Jews have appeared in the NY Times, Daily News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland Jewish News, Jewish Week, the Forward, and Jewish Voice.
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