Elite colleges fail to diversify higher education due to the way they admit their students. Current use of affirmative action has little impact, according to the new book by Lani Guinie. In The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America, Guiner argues that current admissions systems are based on tests and prestige in ways that undermine American democracy. She advocates the replacement of "testocratic merit" with a new "democratic merit." The latter would emphasize educating a diverse group of people instead of identifying the people with the 'best' credentials, as currently defined by the universities. Here are excerpts of her interview for the web portal Inside Higher Ed:
Democratic merit is the form of merit that views higher education, at least partially, as a public good. As such, admissions criteria to colleges and universities should continuously be reassessed for the degree to which they help the institution and its constituents to make present and future contributions to society, that is, our democracy. Democratic merit does what our current meritocracy fails to do: it creates a system that incentivizes individuals who serve the goals and contribute to the conditions of a thriving democracy for both their own good as well as for the collective good. Granting these individuals educational access, regardless of their supposed possession of abstractly measured and individualized “talent,” is what will contribute to the creation of higher-level problem solving.
If our society truly values education as a means of preparing citizens to participate in the decisions that affect their lives as individuals and the society they create as a collective, as well as to enable individuals to improve their lots and their society, then we need to reexamine exactly how we define merit.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to be easy, as the entire undergirding of our educational system rests upon notions of individual achievement and the promotion of competition. But somehow we must shift from promoting testocratic merit, which has produced dubious results, to developing democratic merit, because the latter is the foundation upon which our national values truly ought to rest.