The Myth of American Meritocracy:
Related: "Merit" in elite college admissions
The evidence of the recent NMS semifinalist lists seems the most conclusive of all, given the huge statistical sample sizes involved. As discussed earlier, these students constitute roughly the highest 0.5 percent in academic ability, the top 16,000 high school seniors who should be enrolling at the Ivy League and America’s other most elite academic universities. In California, white Gentile names outnumber Jewish ones by over 8-to-1; in Texas, over 20-to-1; in Florida and Illinois, around 9-to-1. Even in New York, America’s most heavily Jewish state, there are more than two high-ability white Gentile students for every Jewish one. Based on the overall distribution of America’s population, it appears that approximately 65–70 percent of America’s highest ability students are non-Jewish whites, well over ten times the Jewish total of under 6 percent.
Needless to say, these proportions are considerably different from what we actually find among the admitted students at Harvard and its elite peers, which today serve as a direct funnel to the commanding heights of American academics, law, business, and finance. Based on reported statistics, Jews approximately match or even outnumber non-Jewish whites at Harvard and most of the other Ivy League schools, which seems wildly disproportionate. Indeed, the official statistics indicate that non-Jewish whites at Harvard are America’s most under-represented population group, enrolled at a much lower fraction of their national population than blacks or Hispanics, despite having far higher academic test scores. [. . .]
Just as striking as these wildly disproportionate current numbers have been the longer enrollment trends. In the three decades since I graduated Harvard, the presence of white Gentiles has dropped by as much as 70 percent, despite no remotely comparable decline in the relative size or academic performance of that population; meanwhile, the percentage of Jewish students has actually increased. This period certainly saw a very rapid rise in the number of Asian, Hispanic, and foreign students, as well as some increase in blacks. But it seems rather odd that all of these other gains would have come at the expense of whites of Christian background, and none at the expense of Jews.
Furthermore, the Harvard enrollment changes over the last decade have been even more unusual when we compare them to changes in the underlying demographics. Between 2000 and 2011, the relative percentage of college-age blacks enrolled at Harvard dropped by 18 percent, along with declines of 13 percent for Asians and 11 percent for Hispanics, while only whites increased, expanding their relative enrollment by 16 percent. However, this is merely an optical illusion: in fact, the figure for non-Jewish whites slightly declined, while the relative enrollment of Jews increased by over 35 percent, probably reaching the highest level in Harvard’s entire history. Thus, the relative presence of Jews rose sharply while that of all other groups declined, and this occurred during exactly the period when the once-remarkable academic performance of Jewish high school students seemed to suddenly collapse. [. . .]
Each year, the Ivy League colleges enroll almost 10,000 American whites and Asians, of whom over 3000 are Jewish. Meanwhile, each year the NMS Corporation selects and publicly names America’s highest-ability 16,000 graduating seniors; of these, fewer than 1000 are Jewish, while almost 15,000 are non-Jewish whites and Asians. Even if every single one of these high-ability Jewish students applied to and enrolled at the Ivy League—with none going to any of America’s other 3000 colleges—Ivy League admissions officers are obviously still dipping rather deep into the lower reaches of the Jewish ability-pool, instead of easily drawing from some 15,000 other publicly identified candidates of far greater ability but different ethnicity. [. . .]
The situation becomes even stranger when we focus on Harvard, which this year accepted fewer than 6 percent of over 34,000 applicants and whose offers of admission are seldom refused. Each Harvard class includes roughly 400 Jews and 800 Asians and non-Jewish whites; this total represents over 40 percent of America’s highest-ability Jewish students, but merely 5 percent of their equally high-ability non-Jewish peers. It is quite possible that a larger percentage of these top Jewish students apply and decide to attend than similar members from these other groups, but it seems wildly implausible that such causes could account for roughly an eight-fold difference in apparent admissions outcome. Harvard’s stated “holistic” admissions policy explicitly takes into account numerous personal characteristics other than straight academic ability, including sports and musical talent. But it seems very unlikely that any remotely neutral application of these principles could produce admissions results whose ethnic skew differs so widely from the underlying meritocratic ratios.
One datapoint strengthening this suspicion of admissions bias has been the plunge in the number of Harvard’s entering National Merit Scholars, a particularly select ability group, which dropped by almost 40 percent between 2002 and 2011, falling from 396 to 248. This exact period saw a collapse in Jewish academic achievement combined with a sharp rise in Jewish Harvard admissions, which together might easily help to explain Harvard’s strange decline in this important measure of highest student quality. [. . .]
It is important to note that these current rejection rates of top scoring applicants are vastly higher than during the 1950s or 1960s, when Harvard admitted six of every seven such students and Princeton adopted a 1959 policy in which no high scoring applicant could be refused admission without a detailed review by a faculty committee.78 An obvious indication of Karabel’s obtuseness is that he describes and condemns the anti-meritocratic policies of the past without apparently noticing that they have actually become far worse today. An admissions framework in which academic merit is not the prime consideration may be directly related to the mystery of why Harvard’s ethnic skew differs in such extreme fashion from that of America’s brightest graduating seniors. In fact, Harvard’s apparent preference for academically weak Jewish applicants seems to be reflected in their performance once they arrive on campus.79