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Are University Admissions Academically Fair?

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  • Debopam Bhattacharya
  • Shin Kanaya
  • Margaret Stevens

Abstract

High-profile universities often face public criticism for undermining academic merit and promoting social elitism/engineering through their admissions-process. In this paper, we develop an empirical test for whether access to selective universities is meritocratic. We assume that students who are better-qualified on standard observable indicators would on average, but not necessarily with certainty, appear academically stronger to admission-tutors based on characteristics observable to them but not us. This assumption can be used to reveal information about the sign and magnitude of differences in admission standards across demographic groups which are robust to omitted characteristics. Using admissions-data from a selective British university, we provide empirical support for our identifying assumptions and then apply our analysis to show that males and private school applicants face higher admission-standards, although application success-rates are equal across gender and school-type. Our methods are potentially useful for testing outcome-based fairness of other binary treatment decisions, such as mortgage approval, where eventual outcomes are observed for those who were treated.

Suggested Citation

  • Debopam Bhattacharya & Shin Kanaya & Margaret Stevens, 2012. "Are University Admissions Academically Fair?," Economics Series Working Papers 608, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:608
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    Cited by:

    1. Bhattacharya, Debopam, 2013. "Evaluating treatment protocols using data combination," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 173(2), pages 160-174.
    2. Karlsson, Linn & Wikström, Magnus, 2021. "Gender differences in admission scores and first-year university achievement," Umeå Economic Studies 1001, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
    3. Bhattacharya, D. & Rabovic, R., 2020. "Do Elite Universities Practise Meritocratic Admissions? Evidence from Cambridge," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 2056, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    4. Sevilla, Almudena & Borra, Cristina, 2015. "Parental Time Investments in Children: The Role of Competition for University Places in the UK," IZA Discussion Papers 9168, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    University admissions; affirmative action; economic efficiency; marginal admit; unobserved heterogeneity; threshold-crossing model; conditional stochastic dominance; partial identification;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C13 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Estimation: General
    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination

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