As an academic, I am interested in the role of diversity in educational institutions, corporate work place, non-profit organizations, and in public policy making. But, here, in this short essay, I want to focus on one important question: Should diversity be a consideration to admissions in colleges and universities? This question resonates all over the world. In India, diversity is largely represented in terms of gender and caste. In United States, one of the important representations of diversity is race.
Diversity is evidently important purely from statistical point of view. We know that when data points are clustered, they provide less information than when there is a reasonable spread in them. That is, heterogeneity is a source of information. Of course, huge variance/spread in the data also leads to erroneous inferences/information. Analogizing, extreme postures/criteria distort the value of diversity but heterogeneity does add value to decisions and experiences.
To deepen the understanding, here, I restrict my discussion to admissions to US higher educational institutions. Policies that are optimal for US are at least suggestive for other societies and somewhat generalizable to different situations of our decision-making and choices.
While the overall enrollment in higher education may be declining in US, admission to the good schools has become monumentally competitive. For example, in recent years, the admission rates in elite institutions have hovered around 5 percent (University of Chicago’s rate has plummeted to about 8 percent from about 40 percent.) The admission rates are less than half of what they used to be a decade earlier. Deluged by more applications than ever, the selective educational institutions are rejecting a vast majority of applications. In this context, admission to a credible educational institution is a matter of substantial public import and it is worth examining if diversity should be an element in admission decisions.
The highly selective institutions like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and others, use a complex and subjective process to consider, from a pre-screened pool of qualified candidates, each person’s full range of accomplishments, experiences and potential. To achieve broad diversity, the institutions also take into account race and ethnicity, among other factors.