Conall Boyle on university admittance: (2) what merit?

Selecting school entrants by IQ and no other criterion is a good example of a meritocratic system.

Conall Boyle, Lotteries for Education

Conall Boyle sees admitting students to universities based on standardized test scores as being a meritocratic policy. This is so, according to Boyle, since standardized test scores are a good (indeed, the only) predictor of probability of graduation. There seems to be an obvious gap here: it is far from clear why high probability of graduation can be considered “merit”. Boyle rejects “good works” (such as doing volunteer work for good causes), for example, as being “false merit”, because it is not a predictor of probability of graduation. This seems like an unusual use of the term “merit” – a more suitable term perhaps is “potential” or “promise”.

Even then, we are obviously dealing with “promise” of a rather peculiar nature: “promise to graduate”. Boyle sees such promise-based policy as being justified by considerations of efficiency: there is a limited number of slots at the university, the public has an interest to have as many as possible of those slots turn into graduates rather than turn into dropouts. But, again, there is an obvious gap: producing graduates cannot be a good by itself since the university could easily produce more graduates (or fewer graduates) by changing the graduation requirements. The real objective of a university education is something different. Admittedly, an examination of what exactly is that objective would be a rather complicated and potentially controversial task. However, without undertaking this task it would be rather difficult to support the claim that the promise of good grades provides utility for society.

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