17.7.09

REGRESSIVE TRANSFERS. Clout admissions to the University of Illinois reinforce advantages.
The majority of students who benefited from political connections when applying to the University of Illinois attended elite, affluent high schools, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis of admissions data.

Just how skewed was the campus clout list? Half of the 616 Illinois students who received preferential treatment from 2005 to 2009 graduated from just 22 high schools, all but one in the metro area. Meanwhile, at least 668 Illinois high schools had no clouted applicants at all.

Among the least connected were students from Chicago Public Schools. The state's largest school district has about 19,000 graduating seniors each year. Yet only 25 were placed on the clout list over five years -- fewer than Highland Park High School merited by itself, with 30. The north suburban school graduates about 425 students per year.

Admissions clout clearly thrived in places where families were politically savvy and well-positioned to tap into connections with elected officials and university trustees, said educators and other observers.
There's an interesting interpretation problem in the report. Some students might have been admitted without a little help from their friends. Does that affect the marginal effectiveness of the influence?

Being tagged Category I didn't mean automatic admission for applicants. This year, for instance, 160 candidates were on the undergraduate clout list. Of them, 70 gained entry on their own merits, 33 were admitted after their rejections were overturned and the rest were denied, [Urbana admissions director Stacey] Kostell said.

Admissions officials have said they often alerted high school counselors when a clouted student with subpar credentials was admitted over classmates with better credentials. In some cases, the U. of I. apparently hoped to lessen fallout at top feeder schools by delaying the applicant's notification until the end of the school year.

That admissions officers were aware the clout decisions sometimes caused a stir at high schools is evidenced by internal e-mails obtained by the Tribune.

Last winter, an admissions officer was told to place a student on the wait list even though her credentials at Fenwick High School were "fairly weak."

"I don't have any wiggle room on this one," Keith Marshall, associate provost for enrollment management, wrote in a Feb. 11 e-mail.

"Done, but this will look off with the high school," replied admissions officer Jennifer Piercy.

Just treat these as admissions saved, per corollary to the economic stimulus reckoning under which anyone who has not yet been laid off can be counted as a job created or saved.

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