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A new working paper suggests that highly selective private colleges could change the makeup of their student bodies (and the future leaders of the country) by changing their admissions practices.

The paper is by Raj Chetty, director of the Public Economics Program at Harvard University; David J. Deming, a research associate at Harvard; and John N. Friedman, a research associate at Brown University. It was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The paper uses anonymized admissions data from several private and public colleges linked to income tax records and SAT and ACT test scores.

“Children from families in the top 1 percent are more than twice as likely to attend an Ivy-Plus college (Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and Chicago) as those from middle-class families with comparable SAT/ACT scores,” the paper says. “Two-thirds of this gap is due to higher admissions rates for students with comparable test scores from high-income families; the remaining third is due to differences in rates of application and matriculation.”

The paper notes that “children from high-income families have no admissions advantage at flagship public colleges.”

The paper says the high-income admissions advantage at private colleges “is driven by three factors: (1) preferences for children of alumni, (2) weight placed on non-academic credentials, which tend to be stronger for students applying from private high schools that have affluent student bodies, and (3) recruitment of athletes, who tend to come from higher-income families.”

This matters because “attending an Ivy-Plus college instead of the average highly selective public flagship institution increases students’ chances of reaching the top 1 percent of the earnings distribution by 60 percent, nearly doubles their chances of attending an elite graduate school, and triples their chances of working at a prestigious firm,” the paper says.

It adds, “The three key factors that give children from high-income families an admissions advantage are uncorrelated or negatively correlated with post-college outcomes, whereas SAT/ACT scores and academic credentials are highly predictive of post-college success. We conclude that highly selective private colleges currently amplify the persistence of privilege across generations, but could diversify the socioeconomic backgrounds of America’s leaders by changing their admissions practices.”