Sunday, December 17, 2006

10% correct

This post reads like one of those arguments that a high school Lincoln Douglas debater makes when forced to argue a side of a proposition that he disagrees with. “Resolved: The Texas 10% plan is inherently worse than a system giving preference to racial minorities.” The debater makes points that look like they affirm the proposition or argue against the inverse, but don’t really. Further, the entire argument rests on the idea that there is a substantive difference between colleges.

Regarding the first point: “it often leads universities to admit students that are probably inferior to those they would have chosen otherwise.” Maybe, but, then, so does the proliferation of colleges. If UT-Austin was the only state college in Texas, and could only admit the Valedictorian from each HS class, you would have an erudite group of scholars pursuing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, or some such. But the reality of the situation is that lack of a college degree is a barrier to entry into many fields, state colleges serve the constituents of the state legislatures, and colleges exist to employ academics. So an academic or a frustrated university booster who can’t get his kid into his alma mater may complain that the hallowed classrooms are sullied by the presence of “inferior” students, no one else actually sees this as a problem. People do their four years to get a degree, legislators get their constituents kids into college, and administrators justify the employment of so many academic. Everyone wins.

Regarding gaming the system: Give me a break. Show me one student or family with the wherewithal to plan and execute such a move in order to get into the top 10% of one school when they couldn’t qualify in another, and I will show you someone who could have used that effort and research time to get into some other school that would meet their requirements. Or, here is another challenge: show me one student or family that has actually done this. I can just imagine the thought process: “My kid will finish in the 11th percentile at Plano East, so I am going to drive him everyday to Carter so he can qualify to go to UT-Dallas.” Nonsense.

Can a “harmful effect” of a policy really be “undetected?” And how does arguing that support your proposition? “Your honor, my client will argue that harmful effects of the actions of the defendant have gone undetected and we can’t really say what they are, but take our word for it.” Um, no.

The last argument against the 10% policy is the most interesting, because of all the biases built into it. The primary objection seems to be that poor Mr Price is somehow disadvantaged if he is forced to study finance at University of Houston instead of UT-Austin. Is there any rational basis to make such an objection? Is the education at one state school quantifiably better than at another? Can we say that geologists who graduate from UT-Permian Basin are 8% less likely than those from UT-Austin to detect oil in a particular area? Do lawyers who graduate from George Mason write briefs that are 14% less compelling than those from UCLA? No, of course not. This argument is all about perception of the relative worth of the school, a perception that is completely divorced from any objective criteria. To argue that one school is “better” than another without telling us the criteria upon which this argument is based, is just not compelling.