Elias Weiss is the opinion editor for the Arkansas Traveler, where he worked as a reporter and columnist from 2018-2019. Elias graduated with an AA degree in journalism from Central Piedmont Community College in 2018.

Harvard Op Cartoon

Harvard University recruiters give black high school students false hope by sending them down a strenuous path that ultimately leads to a letter of rejection — and it’s not the first time they’ve been involved in racial controversy in recent years.

Harvard took a monumental step back in time in 2017 when officials condoned racially segregated graduation ceremonies for the first time since the Civil Rights movement. Now, in the wake of lawsuits accusing the university of racial discrimination, Harvard Admissions officers have lowered the bar yet again by heavily recruiting underprivileged high school students who effectively have no chance of acceptance, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study last month.

The study found that Harvard employs recruit-to-deny strategies — a method that boosts perceived prestige by bringing in a new crop of students to reject, consequently lowering the acceptance rates for schools like Harvard.

It offers Harvard Admissions a bragging point – its 4.6% acceptance rate – at the expense of mostly African-American students.

The study also found that U.S. News and World Report rankings consider acceptance rate as an indicator of prestige.

The average SAT score for Harvard’s class of 2023 is 1540 out of a possible 1600. But Harvard’s recruitment letters this year went to black students with SAT scores of 1100 or greater — a score lower than the national average for white students, according to the College Board.

The NBER study found that most of the underperforming students recruited came from a low socioeconomic bracket. Forget about the time they waste trying to perfect their applications – these students also stand to risk losing money they might desperately need along the way.

That 1100-point threshold applies not only to blacks, but to Native Americans and Latinos. And Americans making the maximum yearly salary to qualify as impoverished, 90% of whom are non-white, still make less than the $75 application fee that in a day. 

Although the application fee can be waived on a financial-needs basis, visits to campus may increase applicants’ chances of acceptance, especially at small and elite universities, according to Forbes. And students with an 1100 on the SAT need all the help they can get to be accepted with test scores hundreds of points below Harvard’s average. Harvard could effectively be stealing money from those recruits who don’t meet any of the acceptance criteria.

A 2016 Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans oppose the use of race in any college admissions consideration. But this year, Harvard paid the College Board 45 cents per student for demographic information like race. That’s all an underprivileged student is worth when Harvard can exploit them to boost their own prestige.

Included in that 65% is New York Times columnist Anemona Hartocollis, who expressed her disapproval of Harvard’s methods on Friday.

“Based on race, [Harvard is] intentionally drawing applications from a large portion of African-Americans in particular who effectively have no chance of getting in,” Hartocollis wrote.

The fundamental problem with Harvard’s recruitment campaign is that, while they lowered recruitment standards for minority students, the standards for the same students to be accepted have risen. Furthermore, as black student applications to Harvard have spiked in the past decade, the number of black students accepted into Harvard has remained constant, according to statistics from the New York Times.

Harvard also came under scrutiny earlier this year for using race as a deciding factor in its admissions process.

A group of Asian-American students filed a lawsuit against Harvard after determining that, in what their admissions officers consider “sparse country,” including the states of South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia, Asian-American students are not recruited at all. Those who were recruited in more populous states needed to perform up to 280 points better than their black counterparts on the SAT to get any recognition from the Admissions Office.

Harvard has enough clout both in the U.S. and internationally to afford a higher admissions rate, especially when it means they can come by it honestly and fairly. Abolishing the recruit-to-deny strategy would be the first step in ending this public relations crisis and erasing Harvard’s reputation as an institution willing to discriminate based on race for financial gain and increased stature.

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