The Changing Selectivity of American Colleges

Caroline Hoxby:

If one spends time at certain colleges’ events, one is likely to hear alumni exclaim that their college is so selective today that they would not be admitted were they to reapply. Similarly, one might hear parents worry that their children are forced into excessive resume polishing because American colleges are increasingly selective. These alumni and parents often assume that rising selectivity is a pervasive phenome- non, and they often also assume that it is caused by colleges’ not having expanded sufficiently to accommodate the ever growing population of U.S. students with post- secondary ambitions. The latter assumption—that the supply of college places has been relatively inelastic despite a growing population of prospective students—would seem to explain rising tuition. Thus, rising selectivity and rising tuition would seem to be part of the same logical phenomenon affecting higher education.