Harvard, as many of you know, has recently adopted a new financial aid scheme that “substantially discount[s] costs for all but the very wealthiest students.” This move immediately generated fears, as expressed in this article from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, that Harvard’s largesse “will lure affluent and brightest blacks away from state universities.” (HatTip to reader Ed Chin)
An important question is the effect of the new plan on college-bound African Americans. It is certain that the new plan will draw more affluent blacks to Harvard. Consider, as an example, a high achieving black student from a Detroit suburb whose family income is $150,000 or more. In the past, this student would have shied away from applying to Harvard because of its high cost — now approaching $50,000 a year — and the unavailability of financial aid for a student from a family with this relatively high level of income. In most cases, Harvard would have lost this highly accomplished student to the University of Michigan, where in-state tuition costs are a fraction of Harvard’s comprehensive fees. Now the same student may apply to Harvard knowing that if accepted he or she will not have to pay any more than it would cost to attend the University of Michigan.
Not to worry, says Harvard, generously imposing a quota on the number of blacks it will buy.
In an effort to persuade the academic community that Harvard’s financial muscle should not be feared, Harvard will make the point that at best it will enroll 200 black freshmen each year. Thus, it will be argued that its new financial aid plan will have a negligible effect on enrollments of blacks at America’s leading state universities.
It’s nice (for its competitors) for Harvard to impose on itself a quota on the number of blacks it will buy, but I’m not sure 200 is a very reassuring number, given the data reported in another article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:
In 2005, 153,132 African Americans took the SAT test. They made up 10.4 percent of all SAT test takers. But only 1,132 African-American college-bound students scored 700 or above on the math SAT and only 1,205 scored at least 700 on the verbal SAT.
If we raise the top-scoring threshold to students scoring 750 or above on both the math and verbal SAT — a level equal to the mean score of students entering the nation’s most selective colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, and CalTech — we find that in the entire country 244 blacks scored 750 or above on the math SAT and 363 black students scored 750 or above on the verbal portion of the test.
Assuming that Harvard’s 200 will come from this high-scoring pool, that leaves a considerably smaller number over which all the other “diversity”-seeking selective institutions will have to compete.