Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Time for Princeton and Yale to Sneeze

Today's Harvard Crimson reports:

College Rejects Early Admissions

In a move unprecedented among the nation’s top private schools, Harvard College will scrap its early admission program next fall and put all its applicants on a single deadline, University officials said yesterday....

Interim President Derek C. Bok said that he and the six fellows of the Harvard Corporation, who approved the change yesterday morning, had concluded in recent months that “somebody had to take the lead” in eliminating early admission. “We feel that if anybody is going to step up and take the lead to try to get rid of something which is really doing more harm than good in high schools across the country, it’s us,” Bok said....

Two Harvard professors who co-authored “The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite” wrote in an e-mail that they were “quite surprised” at Harvard’s decision.

“Harvard has benefited greatly over the years from its early admissions policies,” Larsen Professor of Public Policy Christopher N. Avery ’88 and Ramsey Professor of Political Economy Richard J. Zeckhauser ’62 wrote. “This strongly suggests that this policy change is a selfless act, not some stratagem to outmaneuver its rivals.”

Shelving early admission is a bold move for Harvard. Students eager to gain admission to college could potentially apply early to other leading schools instead of waiting for Harvard’s later, unitary deadline. If other top colleges don’t follow Harvard’s lead, some high school seniors may opt for earlier notification elsewhere over a Crimson diploma....

“The old adage is, ‘When Harvard sneezes, everyone else gets pneumonia,’” said Bruce Breimer, school principal and director of college relations at the Collegiate School in New York. “It’s going to cause everyone else to re-evaluate.”

Derek made a good call here. The early admission process has been becoming increasingly strategic on the part of both schools and students, and this game playing does not seem to serve much social purpose. Harvard is the number #1 undergraduate institution in the country, as judged by the revealed preference of students.* If a systemic change is going to occur, this is the place.

*US News and World Report puts my employer Harvard as #2 and my alma mater Princeton as #1. Guess who I root for at sporting events.

Update: Princeton sneezes.