June 1, 2011

Fighting alumni bias

Here's an amusing NYT article about how Chinese-American firms that mold applications to fancy colleges for hefty fees are expanding into the Mainland China market, where they write essays and create Potemkin extracurricular activities
LuShuang Xu provides an example of that approach. Ms. Xu, who was born and raised in China before emigrating to suburban California at age 9, had high hopes that she would be the first in her family to go to college. But poor results on a practice SAT and a dearth of extracurricular activities convinced Ms. Xu, 17, that she needed a scholastic makeover if she were to make it into a school her parents could brag about to relatives. 
ThinkTank sent her to a public speaking camp, helped her improve her college essay and gave her the e-mail addresses of all the members of the Stanford University history department. At the company’s prompting, she found two internships with department professors. She also enrolled in ThinkTank’s college prep courses, which helped improve her SAT score 410 points to 2160 out of 2400. Next autumn, she will start at Harvard University. 
ThinkTank’s success with students in California’s Asian-American community, which accounts for 90 percent of the company’s American clients, has drawn interest from wealthy parents in China. Mr. Ma opened an office in Shenzhen in 2009 and another in Beijing last year. 
The company entered China at a time when the college consulting industry on the mainland was booming, with numerous agencies promising to make Chinese student’s academic dreams come true, often through questionable practices. 
One company, Best Education, has offices across China and charges clients an average of 500,000 renminbi for writing clients’ essays, training them for the visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and providing career guidance. 
“The students just supply their information and we do all the work,” said one representative, who requested anonymity to protect his job. Best Education offers a 50 percent refund if an applicant is rejected by the student’s chosen schools. ... 
Reached by telephone, an agency representative said the company did a lot more than just polish résumés. “If a client’s English is poor, our trained professionals can write the essay to make sure it looks perfect,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from her employer. 
Helping students from China clear the college entry hurdles has presented ThinkTank with a fresh set of challenges. Often they have poor English language skills and have done little with their free time beyond homework. Yet their parents often demand the Ivy League. 
“We really have to hold their hand and do everything along with them,” Mr. Ma said, including deliberately leaving spelling mistakes on college essays so they look authentic, training them for the Test of English as a Foreign Language and building extracurricular activities from the ground up. 
ThinkTank has founded Model United Nations groups, built a Web site for a Shanghai student’s photography project to get news media coverage and helped another obtain funding to build a hydroelectric generator. 

This raises the more general question of why anybody, Chinese or non-Chinese, cares so much about getting into a famous American college? Obviously, some of it is sheer social climbing -- bragging to relatives, etc. 

Yet, there is a rational piece of the puzzle, which is that many elite employers, such as Goldman Sachs, discriminate extravagantly based on college attended (see Steve Hsu here and here). Many super-lucrative Wall Street firms won't bother recruiting at non-Ivy League campuses, and some even feel Columbia is a little downscale for them. 

Why? Well, there are various obvious reasons of convenience, but another is sheer self-interest. If you graduated from Harvard, keeping it much easier for Harvard students to get hired by your company than equally gifted graduates of lesser-known colleges burnishes the name Harvard, which is on your resume. Plus, your kids will have some legacy pull when they apply to Harvard so why give outsiders an even break?

In other words, there is a pervasive pattern of hiring bias perpetuated by an old boy's network. When discrimination involves race or sex, government and media go on red alert. But when it involves colleges, well, who cares?

Now, one thing we could do to reduce college admissions mania is make Wall Street a little less lucrative. But, that seems beyond imagining. So, let's think about a direct approach.

The normal solution for discrimination is quotas, explicit or covert. So, why not quotas for, say, Goldman Sachs? GS is not only vastly wealthy, but has been hugely helped out in recent years by the taxpayers (e.g., the AIG bailout, which saved Goldman $13 billion). So, Goldman should publicly commit to doubling the percentage of new recruits it hires each year from public universities.

I'm not sure that this is a great idea, but what's interesting is that it's a rather novel idea. 

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brown and Cornell tend to be considered downscale, not Columbia.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are the "big three". Columbia, Dartmouth, and Penn follow. Brown and Cornell bring up the rear and tend to be considered a little downscale.

Anonymous said...

I think Peter Thiel's idea of trying to get kids to drop out of college altogether is a better idea.

Anonymous said...

The normal solution for discrimination is quotas, explicit of covert. So, why not quotas for, say, Goldman Sachs?

Aren't there already covert quotas at the top universities that then gets reflected in Goldman Sachs recruiting?

Ron Unz wrote an article about this. The "white" population at the Ivy League is dominated by Jews, the Jewish population is a plurality, Asians make up a certain percentage, followed by blacks and Hispanics. The proportions have been relatively constant and there are other indications suggesting a kind of covert quota at work.

Anonymous said...

What really needs to happen is for these universities to have a dramatic loss in prestige. And ultimately that requires American/globalist power and influence to be greatly diminished. The prestige of these universities is a function of American/globalist power and influence throughout the world.

Anonymous said...

Since anonymous poster #1 is also fond of the "narcissism of small differences" I'd add that Princeton wasn't, during Woodrow Wilson's stint there, considered academically comparable to either H or Y, but was more of an excellent repository of social esteem for Good Families.

What really helped Princeton out was the military-industrial complex. Post-Sputnik the feds got out the snow shovels, and alma mater's proximity to the tonier side of the NYC metropolitan area was huge in this respect (Penn also benefited grandly from gov't largesse, and in fact has the biggest operating budget of private universities due to NIH).

The idea that Joe or Josephine Undergrad plucked at random from Yale is significantly more intelligent than one from Dartmouth is a fun notion that's helped many a resident of glitzy New Haven through the long winter. Brown made itself a joke during the 60s by ostentatiously abolishing the curriculum (thanks to Hillary's friend, Ira Magaziner) and that conceals the fact that none of its brethren except Columbia still have real core requirements. I don't know tons about Cornell firsthand except that they've got by far the biggest inferiority complex of the schools in the Group of 8 with Sucky Football Teams.

This is not to say there have never been material differences between those schools, although I tend to believe they mainly went out with the 19th century. For instance HLS was a laughingstock in the Progressive Era and was viewed by the snootier shysters of the day as a business school for rich men's idiot sons. I think that time has passed (see coverage of POTUS). OTOH Yale's school of medicine is sort of an adequate but desperate hanger-on at present. An MD from UCLA is a lot more prestigious, but of course now that they've gone and renamed the thing after David Geffen it has to take them down a notch.

Anonymous said...

"Brown and Cornell tend to be considered downscale, not Columbia."

Having attended law school with some Cornell students, I tend to agree with that. Cornell seems to exist so people not cut out for Harvard can brag for the next 50 years about how they went to an Ivy.

Bostonian said...

The Ivies are not known for having the best engineering departments. If the U.S. rationalizes environmental and labor laws to encourage manufacturing, that will increase the demand for engineers, who don't need Ivy degrees.

Anonymous said...

This shows why orientals are such a negative influence on our society - their shallowness, materialism, - doing everything for show.

The woman 'coached' by think tank takes on internships- so rather than students who might actually want to do them, we get orientals who do them for show- your life begins to reflect the application, rather than the application reflecting your life.

perhaps this is why orientals do so poorly outside highly structured paint by numbers environment.

THey are an industrious race, but utterly shallow and lacking in critical thinking skills.

Mitch said...

While I don't dispute the points here, doesn't the open fraud seem a bit disturbing? It's not restricted to the Chinese in China, or even international Asian students.

It's not unheard of over here for Asian students to apply for need-based scholarships and get full rides to prestigious schools--when their parents' ride is a Lexus. Asians can park assets overseas and look poor on paper. Those consultants are in use over here, too.

In Korea, the test prep schools are attended for 40 hours a week, and the kids are basically memorizing essays to use in given situations. There are triple 800 Koreans who can barely speak English.

I'm not arguing that all Asian admits are frauds, or even more than a fringe. But cheating is much more a part of the culture, and most of the immigrants in California are very recent immigrants, so cheating is pretty normal.

Anonymous said...

"Brown and Cornell tend to be considered downscale, not Columbia.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are the "big three". Columbia, Dartmouth, and Penn follow. Brown and Cornell bring up the rear and tend to be considered a little downscale."

==============

More precisely:

#1 Harvard, Unitarian, cosmopolitan, went Jewish early but not "too Jewish"

#2 Yale, WASPy, "well rounded Yalie is one who rolls all the way to Wall Street," resisted going Jewish until late, a little provincial, weak in hard sciences

#3 is Princeton, most "Southern," segregationist enough for Pres. Woodrow Wilson

after that the numbers aren't as important

Columbia went "too Jewish" very early

Brown is trustafarian semiotics majors, not exactly "downscale"

Cornell is in a hick town with state school normal people

hard to remember the others...

bjjdubbss said...

If you are a firm like Blackstone private equity, hiring from Harvard means that you will also get your employees accepted at Harvard BS. That ensures that Harvard can have a direct line to the rich guys at Blackstone and likewise, the rich guys can get their proteges in at Harvard, making it easier to hire the best young talent (oh, our last ten recruits ended up at either Stanford, Harvard or Wharton).

Fred said...

"perhaps this is why orientals do so poorly outside highly structured paint by numbers environment.

THey are an industrious race, but utterly shallow and lacking in critical thinking skills."


What a ridiculous generalization. There's a big difference between Chinese in China and Chinese Americans who were born here. Chinese Americans are well represented among leading tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. -- there's the Zappos CEO, Tony whatever his name is, the guy who runs Cheeseburger Networks... you can look up others if you want.

Anonymous said...

What's the alternative for GS? Hiring by SAT scores? Well, the aspie Caltech grads that Steve has recently mentioned probably wouldn't do well in most areas of finance. I understand that quants are needed in hedge funds, but there's much more to finance than that. To get a major social-climbing prize like an admission to Harvard, you, your parents, or most likely both, would have to be good with people besides being smart. A pursuit of such a prize would test many of the same BSing skills needed by those companies. Plus intelligence.

GS is of course a parasite on the body of the world economy, but how can anyone think that it's an ineffective parasite? Whatever it's doing works. Including, apparently, on the hiring front.

Thripshaw said...

One of the many stupid arguments for more immigration is that so many graduates of American colleges (especially grad school) are foreign, therefore we should "staple a green card to their diploma" so their expensive education doesn't go to waste.

Why not cut the slots for foreign students dramatically and give them to Americans?

Sheila said...

For Asians it's all about brand names. In Singapore everyone had to have a Motorola cell phone, smoke Marlboro cigarettes, and know someone who went to Harvard. Why should it be a surprise that various Wall Street firms restrict their hiring to alums from certain schools? Those doing the hiring are almost all Jews, Asians, or Indians who went to the same schools, and they seek to hire more of their kinsmen (note: when Whites do this it is racist; when Jews, Asians, and Indians do this it is minority outreach and comfort with others of a similar background).

The ranking of Ivy League (or little ivies, or the seven sisters) could be debated endlessly. Both Harvard and Yale undergrad are lousy, with large classes taught by mostly foreign-born (and unintelligible) TAs and grad students; their graduate programs vary. Brown went open-ed standards years ago, and Cornell has been a joke on the periphery of "big name schools" since the 70s. Vassar obliterated its standards to go co-ed early on; Smith has become Lesbian central. None of these places is worth indebting oneself for; White Americans need to stop applying and marginalize these places as the minority cultural ghettos they are; minimal White applicants would also help stop artificially inflating their application/acceptance ratios.

Bruce Banner said...

So, why not quotas for, say, Goldman Sachs?
I just love the idea. Let's see... how about 40 % Black, 40 % Hispanic, 5 % Asian, 5 % Wasp, 5 % White Ethnic, 3 % White Southerner, 2 % Jewish?
Sounds about right.

jody said...

well it seems to work, anyway. i just grabbed the endowments from wikipedia. 2010 figures, in billions:

27.5 harvard
16.6 yale
14.3 princeton
6.5 columbia
5.6 penn
4.3 cornell
2.9 dartmouth
2.1 brown

i'm sure the formatting looks like s, as always. wish there was a good way to do tables here.

Anonymous said...

In Korea, the test prep schools are attended for 40 hours a week, and the kids are basically memorizing essays to use in given situations. There are triple 800 Koreans who can barely speak English.
this is why we should stop oriental immigration and encourage the ones here to go home, they will stagnate our society. I truly believe their brains are 'wired' differently - they don't think like us, they more robotic.

jody said...

harvard and yale were the important ones for the longest time, until recently, when princeton began a serious program to try to match them. they started this, oh, 20 years ago or so. it's been working, in my opinion. princeton is about equal to yale now. probably not in prestige but in most other ways. princeton recruited me for sports, i didn't go there though. i know a couple princeton grads.

columbia is ai'ght. that's where one of my high school friends became a neurosurgeon. penn i don't know much about. i've been there once but that was it. high school girlfriend went there for undergrad, became a geneticist, never heard from her again.

cornell is the place where people go who didn't get into the others, like another poster said. knew a guy who went there, sadly had a lot in common with that character on the US version of the "the office" where he keeps talking about how he went to cornell.

dartmouth is the smallest one, seems to punch above it's weight. was gonna go up there and look around in the late 90s but never did. brown seems like a self-inflicted joke now and is probably not to be taken seriously.

jody said...

i'd have to go back and look to be sure, but most ivys are typically strong, to various degrees, in medicine and law and finance, and weak in engineering and science. they aren't all weak in science, harvard at minimum is very good and does a good amount of important fundamental reasearch, but in general ivys aren't super science research centers and definitely not engineering powerhouses.

the world doesn't run so much on what the ivy league people are doing. that's more like state school engineering grads, MIT, stanford, caltech guys.

they do get to tell us how to run the world, though. at least in the US. i recently watched this BBC documentary about the clinton years and how many of the important global finance decisions in the US were being made by one or another of various ivy league jewish guys, leading to the asian financial crisis of 1997.

current rulers include tim geithner (dartmouth) and ben bernanke (harvard). neither seems to know what he's doing, although geithner, who is german, is probably fair game to criticize since he's not jewish and you can dole out a beating on him without much backlash.

Anonymous said...

#1 Harvard, Unitarian, cosmopolitan, went Jewish early but not "too Jewish"
25% of the student body jewish, nearly all department heads,and only 10% white christian male is not 'too jewish'

LOL its a bastion of jewish power

Anonymous said...

Those doing the hiring are almost all Jews, Asians, or Indians who went to the same schools, and they seek to hire more of their kinsmen

I graduated from an Ivy League school in '05 and worked for two years as an analyst at a Wall St. investment bank. I went through dozens of interviews for different firms, and through several rounds of interviews for many firms. Most of the recruiting, which is done by analysts, associates, and managing directors, not by HR type people, was done by Whites and Jews, with a smattering of Asians and Indians here and there.

Anonymous said...

"this is why we should stop oriental immigration and encourage the ones here to go home, they will stagnate our society. I truly believe their brains are 'wired' differently - they don't think like us, they more robotic."

Steve - I hold you opinions in high regard much of the time, but the level of intelligence and insight displayed by many of the regular posters on your blog leaves a great deal to be desired (i.e. Whisky, Agnostic). You would no doubt elevate the quality of dialogue here if you pruned some of the more insipid or spurious remarks.

Anonymous said...

Gaming your way into a school that's above your abilities shouldn't be an attractive strategy. If it's an attractive strategy, that means the school isn't doing enough to actually challenge students while they're there instead of just using the admissions process to decide who's going to graduate. If you need your admissions essay ghostwritten for you, what to do you when you have to write your first college paper? If the answer is "write poorly and get an A-", the main problem isn't students effectively gaming the admissions process, it's grade inflation and generally low academic standards.

map said...

Fred -

"What a ridiculous generalization. There's a big difference between Chinese in China and Chinese Americans who were born here. Chinese Americans are well represented among leading tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. -- there's the Zappos CEO, Tony whatever his name is, the guy who runs Cheeseburger Networks... you can look up others if you want."

Ah...yes...another Asian business built on recycled technology, funded with MBDA loans, whose output is sold to US government contracts.

Al said...

One of things college has taught me is that Ivy League schools tend to outperform non-Ivies of similar selectivity and stature in the world finance/consulting recruiting.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton outperform Stanford, CalTech, and MIT.

Columbia and Dartmouth outperform Chicago and JHU.

Duke seems to be an exception to the rule.

Anonymous said...

"Yet, there is a rational piece of the puzzle, which is that many elite employers, such as Goldman Sachs, discriminate extravagantly based on college attended."

I thought your view was that, as illustrated by Jackie Robinson, there is no need to worry about hiring discrimination in competitive markets. If Goldman Sachs discriminates then J.P. Morgan will run it out of business. But Goldman Sachs is still in business. Therefore, Goldman Sachs doesn't discriminate based on college attended.

map said...

I thought Goldman Sachs hired at places like the University of Chicago. At least it did back in the 90's.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea, Steve. But it'll never happen. The HYPe is just too powerful.

Anonymous said...

I thought Goldman Sachs hired at places like the University of Chicago. At least it did back in the 90's.

GS and the other major i-banks tend to recruit at around 15 to 20 schools.

Anonymous said...

You would no doubt elevate the quality of dialogue here if you pruned some of the more insipid or spurious remarks.
care to actually offer a counter statement rather than a oh so typical minority request for censorship (orientals come from authoritarian societies so i guess this is the norm)

Anonymous said...

Asian business built on recycled technology, funded with MBDA loans,
chinese millionaire from an educated family can come here and get a low interest SBA loan that no white can qualify for.

Anonymous said...

whose output is sold to US government contracts.
lets not forget the whole minority government contractor racket.

David said...

"Fighting alumni bias" or, "Human nature must be overcome and will be defeated".

Nose on Face said...

Goldman Sachs, discriminate extravagantly based on college attended."

I thought your view was that, as illustrated by Jackie Robinson, there is no need to worry about hiring discrimination in competitive markets. If Goldman Sachs discriminates then J.P. Morgan will run it out of business.


That assumes the highest level of financial decisions and the people hired to make them work in an efficient market rather than nepotistic clubs protected by artificial high barriers.

You know, the same efficient market theory that Alan Greenspan assured in 2006 make hedge funds safe and the possibility for a housing crash virtually impossible.

Jack Reylan said...

I will not deny that foreign students can be bright, but faculty exaggerate their brilliance because foreign students are servile in doing work and favors for faculty and not demanding that professors actually earn their tuition keep. Morevover, faculty like that foreign students are either afraid, complicit or morally ambivalent about the imoral behavior of professors. In many cases they are more likely to share the professors' anti-Americanism than American students.