Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Jack" And Finding Talented Students

It's not easy to follow the five blog-postings about the state of the Patriot League, but I think I finally found the perfect NY Times piece to do so. It's an article about "Jack", or more accurately, recent Amherst graduate Tony Jack - in "Elite Colleges Open New Door To Low-Income Youths".

The piece is admittedly a back-patting sort of piece on how elite institutions are doing a better job at admitting folks from everywhere. But Mr. Jack's story is worth telling, and his love of Amherst is a delight to read. It also, however unwittingly, exposes some of the problems of our academic index system in recruiting athletes - and exposes some of the unpleasant truths about demographics in private, high-academic colleges. It's almost the best possible follow-up to the "New Realities" piece.

Concerned that the barriers to elite institutions are being increasingly drawn along class lines, and wanting to maintain some role as engines of social mobility, about two dozen schools — Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Williams and the University of North Carolina, among them — have pushed in the past few years to diversify economically.

They are trying tactics like replacing loans with grants and curtailing early admission, which favors the well-to-do and savvy. But most important, Amherst, for instance, is doing more than giving money to low-income students; it is recruiting them and taking their socioeconomic background — defined by family income, parents’ education and occupation level — into account when making admissions decisions.

Do I think that "replacing loans with grants" also happens to help out Harvard and Princeton's football teams? Absolutely. That's not a bad thing, but it does expose a little hypocrisy that Harvard and Princeton don't offer "scholarships". By doing this, they're in effect paying the entire ride for the student. How's that different from the Patriot League's grants-in-aid or athletic scholarships?

Also, tellingly, it shows that places like Harvard are using grants in much the same way Patriot League schools are doing for athletes. Although it's available for all students, it does show how scholastic financial aid is changing - and how the Patriot League is, in a way, changing the game a bit.

There's more interesting stuff here.

Mr. Jack’s high grades and test scores — a respectable 1200 on the SAT — won him a full scholarship to the University of Florida. But the median score for his Amherst class was 1422, and he would have been excluded had the admissions office not considered his socioeconomic class, and the obstacles he had overcome.

“Tony Jack with his pure intelligence — had he been raised in Greenwich, he would have been a 1500 kid,” said Tom Parker, the dean of admission. “He would have been tutored by Kaplan or Princeton Review. He would have had The New Yorker magazine on the coffee table.”


Mr. Jack is 6 foot 7 and built like the football player he used to be. In his freshman year, he said, he was walking to his dorm one night when a police car seemed to be following him. He recalled showing the officer his Amherst ID and explaining, “I’m a student here.”

In Mr. Jack’s class of 413, 15 percent, or 61, students, are from families with incomes of less than $45,000 a year; about two-thirds of those are from families earning less than $30,000. He was amazed to discover how much preparation wealthier students had.

“People are groomed for the SAT,” Mr. Jack said. “They take Latin to help them with their vocabulary.”

Ignore for a minute the somewhat patronizing tone of the article (did they really need to drop a reference to the New Yorker there?). The two keys here are: the fact that Mr. Jack used to play football, and that despite his obvious intelligence, he only scored 1200 on his SAT's.

Mr. Jack, obviously is not alone. To me there seem to be many, many lower-income kids that have the smarts to excel at an an Amherst, Georgetown, Lehigh or Holy Cross - but have SAT's in the 1200's. Coaching for taking the SAT's is a huge problem, and the scores get skewed as a result. And when they're institutionalized in our index calculations, it perpetuates the problems. When I said here that folks are saying that the SAT discriminates against lower-income students and black students, I wasn't kidding.

By using this as part of our Academic Index calculations for athletics, I don't think Mr. Jack would have been allowed admission in at least several Patriot League schools with these academic numbers, since a 1200 is above the presumptive floor for the league. Furthermore, I think he wouldn't have been able to get admission to any of the Ivy League schools since his 1200 score would presumably have been below the absolute floor of the Ivies. That is very, very telling that something may be wrong with both our AI calculations.

What's also telling is that Mr. Jack, with more chances at football aid money (such as partial scholarships) and a more forgiving AI, could possibly have played football at a Patriot League or Ivy institution. His choice appeared to be a full D-I athletic scholarship at University of Florida or a full academic scholarship at Amherst (due to their consideration of socioeconomic background on admission). Of those choices, he (wisely) chose the better education. But you have to wonder - what if Lehigh offered a free education and reached out to a kid like this, with a chance to play championship football? Would he have been in Brown & White?

I believe that all elite institutions should be reaching for more students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and the Patriot League could actually lead the Ivy League on this issue the same way an Amherst is with Mr. Jack. The first step is changing the AI.


Congratulations to Coach Wilcher on getting selected for the NCAA Expert Coaches Academy this weekend. Aside from a nice paid trip to Miami, it's an important forum concerning the "critical shortage of ethnic minorities in head coaching positions in the sport of college football, primarily at the Division I level," according to the press release. He's the only Ivy or Patriot League representative at this meeting. Congratulations coach on this honor!

Also, for those that didn't know, the Any Given Saturday FCS preseason poll came out a couple of weeks ago -- and Lehigh is officially back in the preseason rankings #23. Lehigh's press release was a great acknowlegement of the AGS community (of which I am a proud voting member), of the College Sporting News (of which I'm a proud writer) and of Ralph Wallace's FCS Waves Radio show (on which I've appeared). How's that for self-promotion?

(My preseason poll had Yale at #5, and Lehigh at #16.)
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