A lottery would simplify everything.

Samuel Goldman explains at The American Conservative.

How to Fix College Admissions

The Supreme Court heard Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin again yesterday. Since the arguments were much the same as the first time, it’s hard to predict what the justices will do. The paradox, essentially, is that the Court has said universities have a constitutionally permissible interest in enrolling a racially diverse class, but prohibited them from using numerical quotas. So they have to design admissions policies that just happen to produce the desired level of diversity, which cannot actually be defined without violating the 14th Amendment.

The problem with this strategy is not that it lets in vast numbers of unqualified students. It is that universities’ commitment to maintaining a specific demographic balance without applying quotas encourages opacity, and even downright dishonesty, in the admissions process.

You might say: universities simply should be prohibited from pursuing racial diversity. The thing is, they’re going to do it anyway, using indirect means if necessary.

Moreover, it’s not just “underrepresented minorities” who have a better shot at admission than their grades and scores suggest. So do athletes, legacies, and students from rural states, among others. Should universities also be banned from pursuing a social and geographic mix? Some critics of affirmative action argue admission should be strictly based on academic criteria. But I’m not convinced our great universities would be improved if they were more like CalTech.

There’s a better way to make college admissions more open and more fair. We could replace the mysterious art of crafting a class with a lottery for all qualified applicants.

In its simplest version, the process would work like this. The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. Extracurricular achievements could be considered. For example, there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport. The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.