College Board’s Adversity Score

Devin Tykodi, Copy Editor

The College Board, a college entrance examination organization, was subject to severe criticism regarding its proposed changes for this upcoming year. Among the most controversial was its adversity score. In theory, they planned to give SAT takers a single numeric score that would aim to capture a student’s economic hardship. According to National Public Radio (NPR), “The score was intended to assess the kind of neighborhood a student was from, taking into account factors such as the portion of students receiving free or reduced lunch, the level of crime, and average educational attainment.” Junior Brett Budos is not a proponent of the potential score; he said it “could have loopholes since wealthy families could purchase properties in low-income areas to boost their child’s score and chance of admission into prestigious universities.”  While Budos’s concern may appear far-fetched, it is certainly plausible considering the recent college admission scandals where wealthy families engaged in unlawful behavior to get their children accepted into top universities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, affirmative action is defined as the “wide range of steps taken by colleges, businesses, and government agencies to increase opportunities for minorities.” It has been used as a system to enable disadvantaged students to attend university for the past 60 years since it was born in the 1960s as part of the Civil Rights Movement. President John F. Kennedy first used the term “affirmative action” in an Executive Order directing government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that those employees are treated fairly during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. Colleges soon began using affirmative action to enroll students from diverse backgrounds.

While affirmative action’s primary focus is on student’s ethnic background, the College Board’s adversity score would disregard ethnicity and instead use economic standing to measure the level of opportunity afforded to a particular student. Senior Adam Liske prefers the adversity score over affirmative action saying that “just because a student belongs culturally to a minority group does not mean they are disadvantaged; they could, in fact, be tremendously wealthy. I believe that using a relative economic measure is a better avenue to quantify how disadvantaged a student truly is since it does not discriminate by cultural background.” Liske echoes one of the primary criticisms of affirmative action in that it is hypocritical since it is fundamentally a system of discrimination. While it was certainly necessary in the wake of the civil rights movement to help discriminated African Americans attend university, its intent may be outdated. According to the Daily Journal, detractors often claim that “[affirmative action] is reverse discrimination, favoring applicants of minority groups over white and Asian people. To them, it is trying to fix a problem of past discrimination with more discrimination.” In the wake of numerous college admission scandals, the public outcry for universities to discard the race card and use wealth as the determiner of opportunity has never been louder.

In 2019, a scandal arose over a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admission decisions at several top American universities. The investigation into the conspiracy was nicknamed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Sophomore Joshua Lee says, “My understanding of the scandal is that the ‘college admission coach’ Rick Singer received large sums of money from wealthy parents to get their child into top universities by fraudulently infiltrating entrance exam scores and bribing college officials.” The scandal that Lee references demonstrated that wealthy social elites will stop at nothing, not even the law, to advance their family’s name. As freshman Justin Lee puts it, “The rich get what they want and they will not let anyone stop them. It’s refreshing to see our country’s legal system send the signal that no one is above the law by charging wealthy parents for their actions.” While Lee perceives the scandal to be a deterrent to wealthy parents looking for loopholes to get their child into top universities, it is alarming that there are corrupt faculty members at these schools involved in enabling this illicit system. The College Board’s proposed adversity score reflects that major changes are needed in the college admissions process.

Another legal trial that shares this sentiment is the Asian-American case against Harvard. The argument of this case is that a Harvard admission discriminates against Asian-Americans since they are disproportionately represented at Harvard. According to CNN, there is speculation that the Harvard admissions team may be stereotyping Asian-Americans as ‘book smart’ or ‘one-dimensional’ to lower their personal scores and ultimately chance of admission. The challengers’ larger goal is to eliminate racial affirmative action as they believe that colleges should only evaluate students on their academic merit. Regarding the challengers’ larger goal, Liske says that it is based off of a “very narrow-minded approach to college admissions. Harvard is a private institution and as much as one wants to, they cannot tell Harvard what students to admit and which ones not to because that is the school’s decision and they have their own set of criteria. Also, the college admission process is holistic and not based solely on grades and I believe this case misses that nuance to the process.” Liske offers a valid point that this case fundamentally aims to remove the holistic review of applicants and transform college admissions into an academic numbers game. The current trajectory of this case is likely the Supreme Court and it will certainly be interesting to see what decision the Court makes on this case and ramifications it has on the college admission process.

Whether it be scandals, discrimination, or outdated racial affirmative action, the college admission process is likely on a collision course for major reforms.