Are College Admissions Meritocratic?

Would you say that the American college admissions process is meritocratic? Understanding that a meritocracy is a system that allows the people in power to choose people (more specifically in this case: applicants) based on their abilities, can American colleges truly accept students based on what they are capable of if the American K-12 education system reflects not on people’s capacity to learn or intellectual abilities, but of their socio-economic status?

Yes, on paper, the idea is that many students who are selected for said colleges are indeed prepared, better prepared, than those who are not. Majority of those students just so happen to come from distinguished families, with better options for schools or (to make the playing field fair) an area where better public education is available (Here’s a hint: The more wealthy the neighborhood, the better the surrounding public education).

Although there could be other extenuating circumstances related to the correlation between wealth and being admitted into more selective colleges (but please, let’s stay away from social darwinist idealism), there is a very clear distinction in the way that public schools are funded and the educational opportunities each student has because of that funding, depending on the different areas the schools are in and the wealth of the surrounding neighborhood.

There also exist the regulations that only allow people to go to schools in their zip code. Basically if you do not live in that district or specific zip code, you are not eligible for enrollment in that specific public school. The idea is “your parents do not contribute to paying taxes for our school, and our neighborhood is also too expensive for you to live in so you cannot come here to get a better education”. While the idea of taxes in America and contributing to society and that whole point is taken, the act of property tax based  funding for education and denying students access to a better (public) education gives disadvantages to the poor, and poorer neighborhoods as a whole.

These disadvantages create a division that limits the quality of education that students receive in poorer neighborhoods. Can people honestly reach their full potential if they aren’t given a fair experience? Can there be a true meritocracy in the American college selection process if there are standards in place that keep specific groups of people from getting the resources that could increase their chances to compete?

There are colleges (like the University of Michigan), that have procedures in place to look at applicants in the context of their high school and surrounding area. They pose the questions: Was this student able to succeed in comparison to their surrounding competition? Did they take advantage of all their available resources and make the best of their situation? They acknowledge the differences among school districts and the different opportunities that students have. But, not all colleges have that same process.

If (public) education in America were at a higher overall standard and if the public education system had a better method of funding schools and/or people were allowed to go to schools in different districts, would the college admissions process be truly meritocratic?

Let Them Be Paid

In the business of college athletics one of the most frequently debated topics is how to handle amateurism and the payment of players.. Much of the more recent talk and news has come from players receiving money for their autographs, most notably college football stars Todd Gurley, Johnny Manziel, and potentially even the 2013 Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston. While the NCAA and universities can make an argument around compensation through scholarship when dealing with the direct payment of athletes, it is absurd to have rules prohibiting athletes from profiting from their name and brand they have created for themselves.

Georgia RB Todd Gurley

Georgia RB Todd Gurley

NCAA bylaw states that a student athlete is not eligible for participation if he or she; “Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind.” More directly, student athletes within the NCAA may not receive any sort of compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness. Many people believe Todd Gurley did in fact sign autographs for money, and it is acknowledged that that is against the NCAA rules. However, what many people are not acknowledging is how silly and absurd that rule is. The superstar running back Todd Gurley was created by the work put in by no one other than Todd Gurley. People are willing to pay money for a football helmet signed by him because of the time and work he put in to become a great running back. This in essence is similar to an artist working hard, producing his or her own original artwork, and then being told he or she can’t have any of the money generated from the sale of their own work. In any other part of American culture, this practice would be considered asinine and wouldn’t be tolerated.

Former Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

Former Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel

In Charles Pierce’s Grantland article regarding the O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit– a lawsuit in which Ed O’Bannon sought compensation from the NCAA for the use of his likeness– Pierce refers to a judge who has little to no knowledge or interest in college athletics other than the facts and information of the case. As the trial progresses, Pierce points out that the judge is both “aware of” and “quite amused by” the principles, rules, and argument of the NCAA regarding athletes using their own names, images, and likeness. There really is no valid argument the NCAA can offer about why these rules exist. As pointed out by Pierce,  this is similar to the line from the movie Animal House in which the pledge master claims, “He can’t do that to our pledges. Only we can do that to our pledges!” Logically it makes no sense for the NCAA to have these rules. If a student athlete works hard and performs well enough to profit off of their name there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to do so.