Are University Admissions Academically Fair?

Jun 2012 | 608

Authors: Debopam Bhattacharya,Shin Kanaya,Margaret Stevens


High-profile universities often face public criticism for undermining academic merit and promoting social elitism/engineering through their admissions-process. In this paper, we develop an empirical test for whether access to selective universities is meritocratic. We assume that students who are better-qualified on standard observable indicators would on average, but not necessarily with certainty, appear academically stronger to admission-tutors based on characteristics observable to them but not us. This assumption can be used to reveal information about the sign and magnitude of differences in admission standards across demographic groups which are robust to omitted characteristics. Using admissions-data from a selective British university, we provide empirical support for our identifying assumptions and then apply our analysis to show that males and private school applicants face higher admission-standards, although application success-rates are equal across gender and school-type. Our methods are potentially useful for testing outcome-based fairness of other binary treatment decisions, such as mortgage approval, where eventual outcomes are observed for those who were treated.

JEL Codes: C13, C14, I20, J15

Keywords: University admissions, affirmative action, economic efficiency, marginal admit, unobserved heterogeneity, threshold-crossing model, conditional stochastic dominance, partial identification


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