Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance

Are University Admissions Academically Fair?

Selective universities are often accused of unfair admission practices which favour applicants from specific socioeconomic groups. We develop an empirical framework for testing whether such admissions are academically fair, i.e., they admit students with the highest academic potential. If so, then the expected performance of the marginal admitted candidates — the admission threshold — should be equalized across socioeconomic groups.

We show that such thresholds are nonparametrically identified from standard admissions data if unobserved officers’ heterogeneity affecting admission decisions is median‐independent of applicant covariates and the density of past‐admits’ conditional expected performance is positive around the admission threshold for each socioeconomic group.

Applying these methods to admissions data for a large undergraduate programme at Oxford and using blindly‐marked, first‐year exam performance as the outcome of interest, we find that the admission‐threshold is about 3.7 percentage‐points (0.6 standard‐deviations)higher for males than females and about 1.7 percentage‐points (0.3 standard‐deviations) higher for private‐school than state‐school applicants. In contrast, average admission‐rates are equal across gender and school‐type, both before and after controlling for applicants’ background characteristics.

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