Circulating in my brain is the notion that the astronomical graduation rates achieved by elite universities (99+%, even among NAMS) are only partly a function of their extraordinarily high admission standards and the supportiveness of their educational environment. The balance of that achievement is brought about by grade inflation: classes at elite universities aren’t as academically demanding as comparable classes at your local community college. Arguing in favor of this is the empirically observed phenomenon that, controlling for academic portfolio, students who begin their academic careers at the community college are less likely to obtain a four-year degree than those who proceed directly to the elite institution.
However, this conclusion appears inconsistent with the observation – also empirically demonstrated – that affirmative action admits have lower academic performance, lower graduation rates, and worse post-graduation prospects than those that enroll in institutions with students whose academic portfolios more closely match their own. If the first conclusion were true, then NAMs ought to benefit from the lower academic standards of the elite university, even if the Jewish students surrounding them are significantly brighter. Alternatively, the extent to which they don’t benefit seems to argue that, in fact, the elite students really are working hard for their degrees.
How can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory conclusions?
Possibility #1: The classroom standards are lowered for NAMs at elite institutions, just like the admission standards. I would think this difficult to pull off university-wide.
Possibility #2: NAMs only take courses of study (e.g. education) with lower standards. This is almost certainly true, but it’s true everywhere as far as I know.
Possibility #3: The data concerning lower outcomes for AA admits is drawn from a much deeper pool of universities than just the elite. I imagine that if you are Harvard, you can lower your standards for NAMs and still enroll sufficiently bright students to excel in even rigorous classes. Affirmative action only becomes problematic for NAMs at schools like Georgia Tech, who have to dig deep into the IQ distribution for their AA admits. But then, the community college data is drawn deeply as well.
Possibility #4: There are negative yet unmeasured background factors among students who self-select to attend community college even though they qualified for four-year colleges that hinder their prospects for success. In contrast, the NAMs who self-select to forego AA have neutral or positive yet unmeasured background factors that improve their prospects for success. This seems to be the only model that actually explains the apparent inconsistency, yet it also is the least generalized.