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Why Caltech Is Different

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I recently read a fascinating article entitled, Why Caltech Is in a Class by Itself". Here is an excerpt:

Of the top two dozen or so elite universities in America only one has managed both to avoid the craziness of the post-60s intellectual fads, and to establish something pretty close to a pure meritocracy -- California Institute of Technology, which has not received the general recognition among academics that it clearly deserves...

If you can't meet the stellar performance requirements and show an intense love for science and mathematics, Caltech isn't interested in you and will not lower its standards. When you apply to Caltech the admissions committee is interested only in your intellectual merit and passion for learning. It has little or no interest in your family heritage, your race, or your skill in slapping around a hockey puck...

Perhaps the most striking difference from all other elite universities -- including institutions like MIT and the University of Chicago which forgo athletic recruitment -- is Caltech's complete indifference to racial balancing.

In a state and a region of the country with the largest Hispanic population, Caltech's entering freshmen class in 2008 was less than 6 percent Hispanic (13 out of 236). The unwillingness to lower standards for a larger black representation is even more striking -- less than 1 percent (2/236) of Caltech's 2008 entering freshmen were listed as "non-Hispanic black".

This "underrepresentation" of blacks and Hispanics, of course, was more than made up for by the huge "overrepresentation" of Asians. Only 4 percent of the U.S. population, Asians made up a whopping 40 percent of the incoming freshmen class in 2008, a slightly larger proportion than the 39 percent figure for whites.

Applicants to Caltech are clearly seen as representing only themselves and their own individual merit and achievement, not their race or their ethnic group.

(Read the full text.)

I found the "no legacies" and "no racial preferences" policies especially interesting. Given how rigorous the school is, it would simply be cruel to admit a legacy student or "underrepresented racial category" student who couldn't otherwise handle the academic pace. It also means that if you're a black or Hispanic student at Caltech, everyone there knows you are there because you met the same admission standards as the white and Asian students, rather than being stigmatized with the "affirmative action" label.

And even though I'm a proud alumnus of MIT, Caltech is purer in how it applies its meritocratic principles.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

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