Auctioning Off College Admissions Seats?

Auctioning Off College Admissions Seats?
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Why not have schools auction off college seats to the highest bidder? The question was posed by a senior vice president at the Harvard Management Company on his public LinkedIn page amid the recent national college admissions cheating scandal. According to Michael Cappucci, it is simply "an honest question." He goes on to ask, "Why do we have a system where wealthy parents have to make shady payments to even more shady intermediaries to get their kids into college?" The post, which has since been removed but still drew much online anger was authored by Cappucci who is "not a top official" at the company; many people still presumed Harvard is connected to his idea, according to Inside Higher Ed, but Harvard was quick to distance itself from the LinkedIn post.

In a way, one might argue the idea of auctioning off admissions slots is not that far-fetched, especially when you consider that colleges - who have already filled up slots designated for students who require financial aid - also reserve space for families that do not require financial need. In these cases, wealth is "the deciding factor" in filling the remaining seats. Therefore, perhaps an auction would be a more transparent way for wealthier families to "compete with the 'charade' of the status quo," according to Cappucci. While the proposal may not be "socially just," it would at least be "as socially just and more transparent than is the current system." Besides, we may as well "force the wealthy to pay more for their good fortune," stated Robert Samuelson, an economics columnist who proposed a similar system.

How would an ideal bidding system exist? For starters, students would have to "meet the school's high academic standards;" bargaining would not be permitted, as "the award of admissions sports would be strictly determined by the price offered;" and preference for children of alumni would not be allowed (also known as legacy admissions.)

Furthermore, all winning bids would be required to pay, so that if the applicant applied to multiple schools but chose one, they would still have to pay their winning bids for all of the other schools. This would help more than just the wealthy, as auction revenue could be funneled into scholarships for the poor and middle class, bringing "more, not less, equality."

Those who advocate for the auctioning of college seats are asking: "Would they be worse than a situation where wealthy donors' children are admitted without any transparency?" Yes or no? Why or why not? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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