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Equipment qualification is a necessary and critical step in ensuring that a product or service is provided accurately and consistently with requirements aligned with medical device manufacturing and testing. This is especially critical for the medical device industry because the medical device manufactured by a company is considered a piece of equipment and requires qualification, as much as other equipment and instruments involved in manufacturing. Verifying prerequisites before qualification ensures a safe and smooth qualification process. A prerequisite in an equipment qualification is a documented verification intended to demonstrate that everything is in order prior to initiating the execution of the qualification section.
For medical device companies, using prerequisites translates into less time and money spent on avoidable delays. Because the requirements for a piece of equipment or a device can vary widely from company to company and even between pieces of the same type of equipment, it is important to devise a universal set of prerequisites that will address all potential trouble areas. Device OEMs and device-testing facilities need to understand how prerequisites fit into an equipment qualification, and need to know what should be Checked during prerequisite verifications in an equipment qualification. They should also be able to outline a universal set of prerequisites.
Prerequisites in an Equipment Qualification Protocol
Setting up equipment in a medical device manufacturing facility includes ensuring that the equipment will safely and consistently work as intended. To do this, it is necessary to verify the following actions:
To cover all of the necessary criteria, equipment qualifications are typically organized by separating the protocol into three sections: installation qualification (IQ), operational qualification (OQ), and performance qualification (PQ).
Because the IQ, OQ, and PQ are performed separately, each should have its own set of prerequisite verifications. Because the equipment requirements at each of the qualification stages are different, the prerequisite requirements at each of the qualification stages should be different as well.
What to Verify during Prerequisite Testing
The general goal of prerequisite testing is to ensure that items that commonly cause execution to be delayed or repeated are in order prior to starting the qualification. Because of variations in equipment and differences in how facilities operate, using the exact same prerequisite verifications may not always be the best approach.
For prerequisites to significantly help streamline the qualification process, they have to be tailored to fit the specifics of both the equipment and the facility. As a whole, it is easy to overlook potentially important prerequisites. Therefore, it is often helpful to separate them into categories and address them one at a time. With a good understanding of the categories, the process of tailoring the verifications to suit a specific piece of equipment at a specific facility will be much smoother. Although it is nearly impossible to cover all prerequisite verifications, some of the most common prerequisite categories are presented and explained in the following paragraphs.
Procedure verification includes any procedure that is required for operation or maintenance of the equipment as well as any sampling or testing procedures required to obtain and analyze the protocol samples. Each of these procedures has typical items that need verification, such as the status of the procedure, the title, and the document number. Specifications vary depending on the section of the protocol the verification is being written for (i.e., IQ, OQ, or PQ). For example, during the IQ, it might be acceptable for the procedures to still be in draft form. But by the time the PQ section is going to be executed, the procedures must be approved documents.
Performing procedure verification could be cost-efficient for a company. For example, a medical device facility brought in personnel to perform the time-consuming task of collecting microbial samples for a qualification. When the samples arrived at the laboratory, they realized that the testing procedure for the samples was still in development. None of the samples taken were usable and the entire collection process had to be repeated once the testing procedure was approved. Because of the delays, the launch of the medical device into the market had to be postponed. The expense of the wasted man-hours and supplies and the delay of the launch could have easily been avoided by a procedure verification prerequisite.
Procedure prerequisite specifications in equipment qualification.
The importance of verifying the training of operators and test personnel is a universal prerequisite throughout the various types of validations and qualifications. For equipment qualification, it's important to verify that the personnel operating the equipment (in addition to the personnel executing the protocol) have the training required to successfully perform the necessary tasks according to the currently acceptable method. Additionally, the personnel executing the protocol should be similarly trained.
Picture executing a performance qualification of an autoclave for which the operator doesn't know how to control the equipment, and the importance of verifying operator training becomes clear. What may not seem as clear is why it is important to verify the training of the qualification test personnel. A medical device manufacturer learned the importance of test personnel training during the qualification of a freezer. The freezer qualification included a 72-hour temperature mapping, which required monitoring and recording the temperature in different quadrants of the freezer at specified time intervals for a three-day period. During an audit, it was discovered that the data were not collected for the full 72 hours. An investigation concluded that the error was due to the fact that the testers who set up the mapping were trained on an earlier revision of the protocol and didn't realize the time interval had changed. For this company, the small amount of time that would have been needed to execute a prerequisite seems well worth it after being set back three or more days because of the need to investigate and repeat the test.
Although not actually a part of the equipment, utilities are essential to its operation. Equipment cannot run without electricity, compressed air, gas, water, etc. Utilities that should be Checked include any utility that is required to execute the protocol and has the possibility of not being available or not being available at the required level.
An example of the benefit of performing utility verifications was seen during the qualification of equipment designed to weld the seam of a medical device. For the equipment to produce a successful weld, it was critical that the laser power supply meet very specific electrical requirements. During the qualification, multiple unsuccessful welds were observed. After a lengthy investigation, it was discovered that the problems were caused by a variation in the electricity feeding the laser. Although the problem was identified, the time needed to correct the problem and rerun the test was costly and could have been avoided had the utility qualification of the electrical system been performed prior to starting the testing.
Test Instrument Prerequisites
Instituting test instrument prerequisites is a simple way to eliminate costly delays and misunderstandings. The items that should be tested in this section include any instrument or piece of equipment that is required during the execution of the protocol. Some examples of instruments or equipment that are typically Checked in test instrument verification include voltage meters, particle counters, and scales. Testing and sampling instruments and equipment are often used by many people and often require calibration. Typical items that benefit from prerequisite testing include the availability or location of the instrument or equipment and its calibration status for the expected duration of the qualification execution. Just imagine the headache it would cause, if, when it came time to start a qualification, you realized that your scale was out of calibration or the particle counter you ordered a month ago never arrived. Making arrangements for calibration or tracking down an order often involves time-consuming activities (e.g. getting approvals, contacting customer service representatives, and tedious paperwork). Such tasks are time-consuming in general, so don't add to the burden by waiting to do them until it's too late to resolve the issue without holding up the qualification. Performing prerequisites allows you to address the items before they start causing delays.
An incident during a qualification of an incubator at a contract testing laboratory shows how test instrument verification can make a difference in a timeline. Temperature mapping was included as part of the qualification. After completion of the qualification, it was discovered that some of the data loggers used during the mapping were out of calibration. The calibrations were scheduled and performed, but the mapping had to be repeated once the data loggers were received back from calibration. The hassle of additional scheduling and the delays incurred could have been avoided had the contract testing laboratory performed a test instrument verification that included the data loggers.
Equipment Status Prerequisite
The purpose of equipment status prerequisite testing is to ensure that the equipment being qualified is installed and ready for qualification. As with procedure verification, different requirements or specifications are typically desired for different sections of the qualification. For example, it might be necessary for the equipment to be set up, calibrated, and ready to run during a PQ. However, for the IQ, it's only necessary for the equipment to be installed. Another possible inclusion in equipment status verification is the availability of the equipment for use. Unlike process validation, which cannot begin until a process has been developed, equipment qualification protocols are sometimes written before the equipment is even received. As a result, a protocol can be ready for execution long before the equipment has arrived and been installed.
Recently, the qualification of a building management system at a medical device facility was scheduled to begin, and consultants were hired to execute the protocol. When the consultants arrived at the facility to begin the qualification, they found out that an ancillary electrical panel had not been installed because it was on back order. If the equipment status had been Checked prior to the qualification, the cost and time of the additional on-site visit by the consultants in order to reassemble the team could have been avoided.
Additional Benefits of Prerequisites
Documentation of prerequisites creates a system that actively tracks future problems, not just problems that have already occurred. When combined with the existing methods of identifying trouble areas of the quality system, prerequisites provide a little extra help in meeting the overall goal of preventing problems rather than just reacting to them.
Adding prerequisites to a validation or qualification program also helps OEMs prepare before an audit. By performing these simultaneous “spot checks” or verifications of the quality system, it is possible to generate trends in the quality system. The additional method of locating such holes and inconsistencies helps a company understand the areas to focus efforts prior to an audit instead of after an auditor has found the problems.
Incorporating prerequisites into an equipment qualification ensures that equipment is ready to run consistently and reliably. Moreover, it ensures that the equipment can pass the testing outlined in the protocol with fewer failures, investigations, or retesting. The ability of prerequisites to streamline the execution of a qualification, with the added bonus of the ways that they benefit a quality system, demonstrates the value of incorporating prerequisites into an equipment qualification. Having a clear understanding of the benefits and being able to apply them to your facility can ensure smooth, cost-effective qualification efforts.
Jennifer Medlar is a consultant for Advanced Biomedical Consulting LLC (ABC; St. Petersburg, FL), and Nancy Cafmeyer is a project manager at the company. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected].
“Current Good Manufacturing Practice for Finished Pharmaceuticals,” Code of Federal Regulations, Part 211, Title 21, Rev. April 2006.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Guideline on General Principles of Process Validation,” Rockville, MD, 1987.
N Cafmeyer and JM Lewis, “Process Validation Prerequisites 101,” Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry, March 2008.
Copyright ©2009 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry
More than 480,000 active-duty men and women serve in the U.S. Army, making it the largest of all the services. The Army is the branch of the U.S. military that conducts combat missions on the ground. Opportunities include jobs in mechanics and engineering, science and medicine, signal and intelligence, support and logistics, and more.
Enlisted soldiers make up 82% of the Army and get hands-on training, including for any career field that interests them.
To join the Army as an enlisted soldier, you must:
Army officers, who make up 18% of the service, are the leaders of the force and help plan missions, take responsibility for the well-being of soldiers and make important decisions.
To become an Army officer, you must:
Working with an Army recruiter is the first step to enlisting. Recruiters know the ins and outs of the service and can help you navigate the process and make important decisions along the way.
There is no obligation when working with a recruiter. They will help you decide whether the Army is right for you, and will help shed light on which job opportunities within the service might be of interest if you sign up.
Related: Contact a Recruiter
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is an aptitude test that helps soldiers narrow down which field of work is best suited for them. It is designed to evaluate your skills in several areas, including math, science, language and technical knowledge such as electronics, automotive and mechanical abilities.
The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) is part of the ASVAB test. Enlistees typically need to score at least 31 on the AFQT unless special exceptions are in place.
Read More: ASVAB Scores and Army Jobs
To join the Army, you have to pass -- and regularly keep passing -- the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT). The test includes six events: the deadlift, standing power throw, push-ups, sprint-drag-carry, plank and two-mile run.
The ACFT is scored on a sliding scale based on gender and age.
Once you've completed basic training, it's time for your Army job training to begin. This is officially known as your Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). There are over 200 different jobs in fields, including mechanics, engineering, science, medicine, aviation, aerial defense and more.
To be sworn into the Army, you will take the Oath of Enlistment, which is a pledge to defend the Constitution throughout your military career. If you are entering as an officer, you'll instead take the military oath of office.
Read More: The US Military Oath of Enlistment
One of the best-known aspects of the Army sign-up process is basic training, which lasts about 10 weeks and is designed to transform a recruit into a soldier, not only physically but mentally.
You'll learn about Army values and traditions, how to care for your weapon, and security and combat basics, and you'll take part in running and fitness training. Later in basic training, you'll move on to marksmanship, then tactical training, leadership skills and teamwork.
Read More: How to Take the Guesswork out of Army Basic Training
Recruits take the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) to test their physical and mental abilities. The Army fitness test, sometimes referred to as the Army PT test, is first given during basic training.
Army fitness requirements changed in 2022, when amid much controversy, the service rolled out a revamped set of ACFT standards for soldiers. The biggest specific change was changing the scoring standards for men and women in different age groups. Leg tucks were also eliminated, replaced by planks, as the event to measure core strength.
But the overall philosophy of the test also changed, from combat preparation to a general fitness assessment.
Read More: Try This Fun Pull-Up and Deadlift Workout to Prepare for the ACFT
The Army ACFT is broken down into six "events." These are the three-repetition deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release push-up, sprint-drag-carry, plank and two-mile run. The test must be conducted in that sequence. The ACFT is intended to be completed in 70 minutes or less.
ACFT scores, as mentioned above, are now customized for different genders and ages.
For example, a female soldier between 17 and 21 must deadlift 120-210 pounds while a male soldier has to lift 140-340 pounds. In that same age group, female soldiers have to run two miles between 15:29 and 23:22 minutes while male soldiers must do so between 13:22 and 22 minutes.
Related: ACFT Score Chart, Resources and How to Administer
Joining the Army comes with a variety of benefits.
Full-time recruits can earn a variety of bonuses for enlisting in certain jobs, such as diving, vehicle and launch system maintenance and repairs, health care, signal and intelligence work, and many other categories.
Bonuses are also available for recruits who have certain skills, and even for those who can begin basic training within 30 days. Qualification for bonuses may also be determined by test scores.
Learn more about enlistment bonuses here.
Recruits who attend college can join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), which helps pay for tuition and other expenses. Other options under the GI Bill help soldiers with a wide variety of career training.
Additionally, the Army offers a Tuition Assistance program for active-duty, Reserve and National Guard members to help pay for school or professional training.
For those with outstanding student loans, repayment and cancellation programs are available.
Learn more about the Army's educational benefits here.
When you join the Army, your paycheck grows as you gain more experience and rise up the ranks. The service also offers a variety of allowances that increase your total compensation. These include free or reduced-cost health care, food, housing, education and more.
Any Army soldier, for free or at a low cost, can obtain licenses and certifications that can boost their career in the civilian world. Under the Army Credentialing Assistance (CA) Program, these include everything from fitness training to software.
Health-care benefits when joining the Army represent a savings of thousands of dollars per year.
Enrollment in the Tricare health insurance program costs nothing for full-time soldiers and includes dental, vision, pharmacy and life insurance coverage. Spouses and children are also covered.
Medical care at military bases and posts is usually free. And coverage includes pregnancy, mental health and a variety of special needs.
Soldiers can enjoy other cost-saving benefits by taking advantage of the services offered on base. These include things like grocery stores and auto repair centers with lower costs than the civilian world. Army bases also offer free entertainment like concerts and comedy shows, free legal services, banks and credit unions, and more.
Read More: Learn About Army Benefits
Steve Beynon and Thomas Novelly of Military.com contributed to this report.
We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.Story Continues
The U.S. Army has announced a pilot program for the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, expanding eligibility by lowering the minimum score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). This is another attempt by the Army to close the gap in its recruiting shortfall by accepting more recruits who would otherwise not qualify to serve. However, expanding academic eligibility does not solve the problems that the Army is facing with recruiting. The Army would be better served by eliminating its academic minimums altogether and increasing its presence out in the community, to include schools, as a way to better promote military service.
The Future Soldier Preparatory Course launched in August 2022 amid a recruiting struggle across all services. The course is designed to take would-be soldiers who were not qualified — either academically or physically — and put them through an intense course to meet those minimum standards of service. Nearly 6,100 have graduated and subsequently passed basic training (this number also includes recruits in the physical fitness track, who previously failed to pass physical, rather than academic, standards). While physical fitness can surely be improved over a short period of time and instill lasting change, questions remain regarding the academic program which is focused solely on passing the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), part of which is the AFQT.
Currently, the minimum AFQT score for enlistment is 31. While the Future Soldier Preparatory Course previously accepted recruits with scores between 21 and 30 into the program, the Army recently announced that a new pilot cohort would accept recruits who score between 16 and 20. The Army claims that this is due to there being fewer enrolled soldiers than the course is designed to have, and this pilot cohort is to fill the remaining seats.
The Army has been touting the success of the Future Soldier Preparatory Course since its launch last year. In January, less than six months after its debut, the program was expanded after its trial period saw more than 90% of its 3,200 initial recruits pass the course and basic training. In March, the Navy launched its own variant, the Future Sailor Preparatory Course, on the same model as the Army.
Despite the early successes the Army is seeing, it may in fact just be the honeymoon phase of a program designed to overcome a shortfall in recruiting. There were some who argued that these programs would lead to better soldiers almost from the start. However, there is no proof that these programs will translate into long-term success in the services; it is simply far too early to tell. The initial cohort is still in its training phase, with most of the graduates still in, or barely out of, Advanced Individual Training (AIT).
There is no data that tracks their performance through basic training, their performance through AIT, and certainly not through an entire career. In other words, there is currently no definitive proof that the Future Soldier Preparatory Course makes better soldiers, it just makes more soldiers. The Army would be well-served to track the progress of the graduates throughout their military careers to see if the program does, in fact, make a difference.
With the Army once again accepting recruits who do not meet their self-prescribed minimum score, it must be asked why there is a minimum acceptable score to begin with. I have previously written about why the ASVAB is already an outdated and inaccurate tool to measure a recruit’s ability to serve. While there is no expectation to overhaul or remove the requirement for the ASVAB in the near term, the continual acceptance of lower scores suggests that the Army might not value its scores as a measure of potential success. This is not limited only to the Army, as the Navy also announced lowering minimum AFQT scores, accepting some as low as 10, provided that the sailor meets the individual scores for a particular rating.
Instead of continually waiving the minimum, and now lowering the minimum waivable scores, the Army should consider abandoning a minimum altogether. Recruits who meet the score of 31 on the AFQT are eligible to proceed directly to basic training. Those who score 30 or below must attend the Future Soldier Prep Course. With an average improvement of 17 points following the Future Soldier Preparatory Course, there is a possibility that even the lowest scorers would Strengthen their test above the minimum for service. The nearly one in four who fail to meet the minimum score will no longer be ineligible for service, but would instead have to undergo the same remediation as those currently in the program, although those scoring below a 15 would have a much greater hurdle to climb.
Expanding the Future Soldier Preparatory Course is a one-pronged solution designed to lessen the recruiting shortfalls that the Army, and most of the military services, are facing. The Future Soldier Preparatory Course is an attempt to expand the 23% of Americans eligible to serve by removing one entry barrier. However, academic performance is not a major disqualifier, as aptitude only accounts for approximately 1% of disqualifications.
The expansion of the Future Soldier Preparatory Course is not a solution to the problem, it is only a narrowly focused fix that addresses a fairly insignificant fraction of the recruiting gap. The Army is adjusting its minimum standards in order to provide a fraction of those who want to serve the opportunity to do so.
At the same time, leadership recognizes that the bigger issue is the low percentage of young Americans who are even interested in military service, just 9%. The lack of military presence in communities and schools has contributed to a lack of understanding among communities, students, and parents regarding what the military has to offer prospective recruits. The Military Service Promotion Act of 2023 is a accurate Congressional attempt to expand the services’ presence at schools and job fairs. The act removes a legal barrier to participation at these locations, but public attitudes may still oppose the presence of the military at these locations, due to political leanings, misconceptions about the military, or a distrust of the services. (It should be noted that the act also includes a requirement to review the Future Soldier Preparatory Course for expansion and for each of the services to have their own version of the program). Involvement with military recruiters should not be viewed as a negative interaction or an attempt at “indoctrination,” but rather an opportunity to increase awareness of a post-high school option for employment and an opportunity to serve the country.
It can be argued that low AFQT scores are indicative of flaws in the broader education system rather than the test itself, and that the priority should be on reforming education. However, that is outside of the purview of the Department of Defense, as it is not its responsibility to set academic curricula or standards. Additionally, while a better-educated youth would expand the eligibility from the aforementioned 23%, it is still not enough to address the larger issues causing the recruiting shortfall.
While the Future Soldier Preparatory Course is an innovative attempt to boost the Army’s recruiting numbers, it is a solution to the wrong problem. The course allows those with a propensity to serve an opportunity if they are not academically qualified, but a better solution would be to focus on finding those with a desire to serve and fostering that interest, not just getting recruits to pass an exam.
Lt. Cmdr. Stewart Latwin is the Navy Federal Executive Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy or the Department of Defense.
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From “New York Times,” I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”
Today, a major new study has revealed in staggering ways just how much elite college admissions in the US systematically favor the rich and the super rich. My colleague David Leonhardt walks us through the data and explains why the study is fueling calls to abandon longstanding practices like legacy admissions.
It’s Thursday, July 27.
David, welcome back to “The Daily.”
Thank you, Michael.
David, after the Supreme Court struck down race-based affirmative action in college admissions a few weeks ago, said it was unconstitutional, a lot of people’s attention quickly turned to other features of the college admissions process that feel in a way like alternative forms of affirmative action and preference, giving people a clear set of advantages in the process.
And a lot of those people started asking, why aren’t we talking about all the ways that college admissions favor the privileged?
Yes. And I think that makes sense because college admissions are about to change more than they have in a long time. And so it makes sense for colleges and for society as a whole to ask, well, what features of the current system should remain and what features should change? Not just affirmative action but really the whole process.
Right. And in the midst of that debate comes a study. And we get a lot of studies in the world of journalism, but this study stood out. And it’s what we want to talk with you about because it seems to offer a really authoritative, perhaps even the most authoritative ever, look at how systems of advantage for those with a lot of advantages already play out in the college admissions process.
So David, tell us about this study.
I do think it’s the clearest look we’ve gotten behind the scenes at college admissions at these elite schools. And the reason is that it combined admissions records — internal admissions records that several of these colleges gave the researchers access to — with tax returns, which gives us hard data on who it is that is applying to these schools. And that allows us, in a way that we really haven’t before, to get a very clear sense of who’s applying, who’s getting in, and who’s going.
And I’ve gotten to know this study really well because I’ve been reporting on these same issues for 20 years and talking to these researchers, who are at Harvard and Brown, who did it. And I’m actually an informal unpaid advisor to them. I supply them thoughts about what are the questions that those of us who aren’t economists want answered by data like this. And I really do think, after years of writing about this, that this has given me and all of us a better sense of what actually happens inside admissions offices than we’ve had before.
And so with all of this information, what did the researchers who did this study find? What’s the headline result?
I think the headline result is that we live in an extremely unequal society, and college admissions in some ways makes it more unequal.
So affluent kids are, on average, much more qualified than less affluent kids. They have better academic qualifications by any measure — grades, SAT scores, essays. And so of course, because colleges need to think about which students are prepared to do the work, colleges are going to end up admitting more affluent students for those reasons. And yet, even on top of that, colleges supply large advantages in admissions to privileged kids over similarly qualified middle - and low-income kids.
And it’s that last thing, it’s that idea that when you’re looking at two kids who have similar grades, similar test scores, similar academic qualifications, that the affluent kid, and particularly the very affluent kid, is nonetheless more likely to get in. It’s that idea that has caused this study to get so much attention.
And David, can you quantify the advantage that this study found? Walk us through some of the numbers that this study produced.
So the way that I find most helpful is, when they look at a typical class at an Ivy Plus college — so those are the eight genuine Ivy League schools plus Duke, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and MIT — when you look at the typical class at one of these colleges, about 9 percent of the students come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution, meaning they come from families earning more than $600,000 a year, and didn’t get in because of their academic qualifications.
Didn’t get in because of their academic qualifications?
Or didn’t get in solely because of their academic qualifications. These are still kids who do extremely well in school. But when you compare them to kids with less money who didn’t get in, they don’t do better. And in many ways, that is the core finding of the paper.
So David, let me make sure I understand this. This study finds that 9 percent of the college students enrolled in these highly selective elite colleges, in a sense they don’t deserve to have ever been admitted and enrolled based on their qualifications versus any other kid who applied. It’s just that they were very, very rich.
I think the colleges would push back on that characterization. Colleges would say, no, these students are still extremely qualified. But I also understand why people would look at the study and make that statement because if decisions were made based solely on academic qualifications, then 9 percent of the students at these schools wouldn’t be there. And they would be replaced by kids with similar academic qualifications who come from less affluent backgrounds.
Right. And there would therefore be greater economic diversity in these colleges.
Precisely. And it gets even starker when you look at the richest of the rich. So let’s imagine two different applicants with the same academic qualifications, one of whom comes from a family with average income, one of whom comes from a family with income in the top 0.1 percent. So imagine a family making about $3 million or more a year.
That applicant from the top 0.1 percent is more than twice as likely — more than twice as likely — to be admitted than a child with the same test scores who comes from a family with an average income.
And I think it’s that difference, this idea that even after a kid from a middle-class or poor background has managed to do as well on the SAT, on these other academic measures, they are still less likely to get in than a kid from a more affluent background. It’s that that has people looking at this data and saying, why was that fair?
Right. Because what this data establishes is that when it comes to a college admissions, there really is a form of affirmative action for the nation’s wealthiest kids. Perhaps people suspected that was the case and maybe even acted as if it were the case, but here it is formally and pretty authoritatively documented and established.
Yes. That’s right.
But David, as you’ve been talking, something’s been bothering me, which is that a lot of these elite, highly selective colleges that we’ve been talking about that this data is drawn from, they say — and they say it very proudly — that they are need-blind when it comes to admissions, which means that technically speaking, they are not making admissions decisions based on income at all. In fact, they’re supposed to be, as that phrase suggests, blind to it.
So how does the study explain this level of advantage for those who are rich, when the process is supposed to be blind to their financial background? What does it cite as the causes of it?
That’s right. It’s not wealth directly. It’s three other factors that correlate very much with wealth and end up giving wealthy kids an advantage. And the first of those three will be familiar to many people. It’s called legacy admissions. It’s the idea that if one of the applicant’s parents went to the same school, that applicant gets a leg up in the admissions process.
Right. It’s a formal process, it’s not secret, and it’s been around for a long time.
That’s right. It’s the official policy of most of these schools.
And of course, legacy students, almost by definition, are likely to be coming from well-off families — not all of them, but many of them. So this policy kind of guarantees a preference for a fair number of rich applicants.
That’s right. The legacy population skews more affluent than the population as a whole. And this study tells us that legacy applicants get a leg up. Now, it’s nuanced, and I think this surprises many people. If you went to one of these schools and looked at the students, as this study did, the average legacy student has higher academic qualifications than the average non-legacy student, which again is a reflection of American inequality, right?
If you have a parent who went to one of these schools, you often will have had a better education growing up. And in fact, many of the most qualified students at these schools — the students who do the best not only in college with grades but after college with the kind of graduate schools they go to or the jobs they get — they do really, really well.
The issue is the colleges also admit a fair number of legacy students who are not there solely because of their academic qualifications, but they’re there because of a mix of their academic qualifications and their legacy status.
And what the researchers estimate is that about half of the legacy students at these schools wouldn’t be there without the legacy advantage. One of the other things that the study shows, and we know this, is that the American elite comes disproportionately from these Ivy Plus schools.
And so the students who are being admitted are absolutely qualified in terms of a basic sense. Can they do the work? Do they have truly excellent academic outcomes in high school? They do, including the half of legacy students who wouldn’t be there without the boost.
But the issue is that this is a scarce resource. And what colleges are doing, the researchers argue, is they are concentrating opportunity among people who already get opportunity.
And that is something that is worth grappling with.
OK. So that is legacy admissions as a force for reinforcing privilege in the admissions system. What is the next factor that the study cites to explain how these schools are perpetuating privilege?
I describe the second factor as private school polish. And that’s the idea that the students who are applying from private schools — both day schools and boarding schools, so think of Andover; or in New York City, think of Dalton; in Los Angeles, think of Brentwood — what happens is these schools are very good at making their students look good.
They’re very good at writing teacher recommendations at these schools. They’re very good at helping the kids think about their essays. They’re very good at helping the kids think about how to package their extracurriculars and to supply them really great extracurricular options.
So what ends up happening is that when colleges are faced with two applicants — again, let’s imagine two with identical academic qualifications, test scores, and grades — one of whom comes from a public school and one of whom comes from a private school, the private school applicant is more likely to get in than an equally qualified public school applicant.
And just to say something in defense of the admissions officers who are trying to make these decisions, sort through thousands of applicants of really insanely qualified teenagers, they understand that private school polish exists. And they think they’re able to control for it. But actually, the polish is so effective that they can’t or don’t fully control for it.
Well, David, let me push back against that defense because I want to better understand it. Admissions officers at these colleges, they know when a kid comes from a private school versus a public school. It says so right on the application — I went to Dalton; I went to Andover. So isn’t this something that an admissions officer could actively seek to compensate for?
They can and they do. They just don’t do it as effectively as they think they do. So let’s think about it this way. The applicant who is coming from a private school has teacher recommendations that really bring out exactly who that student is. They have a guidance counselor recommendation that makes the kid feel like a full person. It’s almost like a newspaper profile.
The kid who’s coming from public school is working with a guidance counselor who maybe has 150 or 200 kids for whom they have to manage that kid’s high school-to-college process. The recommendation about the public school kid just doesn’t pop off the page. Now, your skeptical question is absolutely fair. Could they do it? They could. This study shows they’re not.
Perhaps the best metaphor for this, as I’m hearing you describe this, is two identical products. We shouldn’t think of two identical college applicants as products, but stick with me for a minute. Same quality, same qualifications, but one has a better package. And you’re saying these college admissions advisors, they know that they should be thinking about the packaging, but it’s so persuasive that they can’t unsee it.
That’s exactly right. And I should say, when we talk about private schools, that does not include religious schools, like Catholic schools. So the private school bonus really applies to students who go to these independent schools — the private day schools and the boarding schools that tend to be concentrated in places that also tend to be wealthier.
OK, so that’s private school polish. What is the third factor, according to the authors of this study?
The third factor is athletics. And I think people understand that sports and recruiting are big parts of college admissions. I don’t think they understand quite how big they are or how sports interact with economic privilege.
So how does it?
Well, I think if you said to someone, who tends to be on the sailing team or the golf team or the fencing team, they would say, oh, I assume it’s kids who come from affluent backgrounds.
But actually, it’s almost every sport today that kids come from affluent backgrounds. Some of the only exceptions happen to be the two highest-profile sports, which is part of how I think our impressions are a little off here. They’re football and they’re basketball. They’re the sports that people watch on TV.
But if you look at almost any other sport, be it volleyball, be it soccer, be it baseball and softball, what has happened because of the rise of quite expensive high-level travel sports in high schools, that even in these other sports — I don’t think most of us think of baseball as a sport of the elite — and yet even in a sport like baseball, the kids who are playing at these colleges tend to come from quite affluent backgrounds because that’s who is able to do travel sports when they’re young and then get so good at baseball that they can be good enough to play at one of these colleges, as well as having the academic qualifications to get in.
And how big a factor does the study say that sports and athletic recruitment are, when it comes to reinforcing the privileges of the privileged?
They’re big. So if you look at one of these Ivy Plus schools and you look at the kids who come from the top 1 percent of the income distribution, about 1 in every 8 of those kids is a recruited athlete. So 1 in every 8 of the very affluent kids at these schools is a recruited athlete. Compare that to lower-income or middle-income kids. Among those kids, only about 1 in 20 is a recruited athlete.
So really, sports do skew quite affluent. And as those numbers show, it’s not just on the margins. It really is a meaningful part of the larger advantages to affluence in the admissions process.
It feels worth noting, David, that I think a lot of us not only didn’t know that sports played this role in college admissions, but I think many of us — I’ll just say I thought physical talent is physical talent. Speed is speed, right? Agility is agility — and that the best athlete, no matter class, no matter finances, would find their way to these colleges. And that understanding or perhaps wishful thinking just turns out to be wrong. Money actually does create better athletes.
Yes. It is just the case that we have so much inequality in our country that the better players in these sports tend to be the kids who come from more affluent backgrounds. And there’s something else going on here as well, which is to be a student athlete at one of these schools, you also have to clear a high academic bar.
Now, it’s not as high for any of the other categories we’re talking about. I mentioned before, legacy students have higher than average academic qualifications. Athletes have lower than average academic qualifications at these schools. But what they’re doing is still kind of amazing, right? They are both really top athletes, and they are truly excellent students.
So in the individual basis — I really want to emphasize this — these students are incredibly impressive and accomplished people. The issue is that when you look at it from a society-wide basis, this is a pattern that seems to be perpetuating advantage.
So it’s pretty obvious, David, from all this data who most benefits from the three factors we just talked about. It’s the rich and the super rich. Who, according to this study and all this data, is most disadvantaged by the power of the factors that we’ve just been talking about?
I think there are a couple of different answers to that question. And this is a really complex subject. If we restrict ourselves to the students who actually apply to these schools, the most disadvantaged is what we would call the upper middle class. It’s the students from roughly the 70th percentile to the 95th percentile of the income distribution.
And so what happens is when the colleges are looking at students who all have the same academic qualifications, the biggest advantages go to the very wealthy kids for the reasons we’ve talked about. And the colleges also supply an advantage — a smaller one but still an advantage — to lower-income kids. And I think a lot of people, including college leaders, would say, that’s appropriate. These kids have been running with wind in their face their entire lives, and they nonetheless excel.
Who that leaves out are the upper middle-class kids who — they don’t have the advantages of the very rich. They haven’t overcome disadvantage like low-income kids have. Think of a kid who maybe is not an athlete, not a legacy, and doesn’t attend private school, so going to a big public school in a city or a suburb and who’s applying to one of these places.
It is true that once that kid goes into the process, that kid is the least advantaged. And I think it’s important to talk about that. I would just be careful. It’s not the case that upper middle-class children growing up in America have less opportunity overall than poor children. Because we’re already restricting ourselves to the children who apply to these schools, poor kids have much less opportunity to do well in school. Actually, even if they do well, they’re less likely to apply to these schools than upper middle-class kids are.
So depending on how you look at it, you can either argue that poor kids are the most disadvantaged, or if you look at just the admissions process, you can argue that upper middle-class kids are the most disadvantaged. What’s clear is that very wealthy kids, the top 1 percent and particularly the top 0.1 percent, are the most advantaged.
Right. But just to linger for a moment on the upper middle-class kids who are applying to college and hearing this conversation or hearing about this study, it may very much pain them and their families to discover that what they believed was an economic position that conferred opportunity has, in terms of college admissions and enrollment, become a kind of disadvantage, given the way the system is now constructed.
Yes. And I think another way to think of that is that if the privileges for the top 1 percent in this process were to go away, the beneficiaries would not merely be low-income kids. In fact, some of the biggest beneficiaries for these large advantages for the very rich might be the merely affluent.
I think that if all colleges did were change their approach to private school polish, or all they did was get rid of legacy, or all they did was change their approach to athletics, we shouldn’t assume that that would immediately allow a lot more low-income kids to come to these colleges. We shouldn’t assume that it would allow a lot more underrepresented minorities to come to these schools. It would certainly make that easier by opening up more spots, but it wouldn’t guarantee it.
And so what happens on these college campuses is really going to depend on the full picture of what colleges do after the Supreme Court ruling.
And how many of the systems that we’ve been talking about they are willing to take on, fix, reform.
And one of the things colleges will tell you is that some of these things are harder to change in their view than many outsiders think they are.
We’ll be right back.
So, David, let’s talk about why all these systems of advantaging the well-off, it turns out, are harder to change than we might think. And I think we have to start with legacy admissions, which very much seems like low-hanging fruit if you want to reform the stuff we’re talking about. So how do colleges think about legacy admissions, and why wouldn’t they be pretty quick to just eliminate it?
I think when a lot of people look at legacy, they say, how could this possibly exist? Part of the answer is, it’s not something that colleges invented. It’s actually the norm in American society. If you look around your company, there probably are people who work there whose parents also worked there. If you think about Hollywood or the top singers, a strange percentage of them had parents who were in the same business.
Think about labor unions. One of the main ways that people have gotten labor union cards over the decades, going way back to the early 20th century and the rise of unions, was because a plumber had a dad or an uncle or a brother who worked in that same union. That was the legacy admissions for plumbers.
Right. And same for fire departments and police departments.
Absolutely. That’s the way the world works. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a legacy politician. So was Winston Churchill. Martin Luther King was a legacy minister. And I think although we can look at that and we can say, wait a second, is that fair, it actually has enormous benefits when people feel a long-term investment in an institution.
We saw this during Trump’s impeachment. Who were the Republicans willing to stand up and actually vote to convict Trump, many political analysts pointed out? They were people whose parents had been in politics. Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney are legacy politicians who felt a larger commitment to the enterprise that made them willing to do something that was hard.
This exists in a very real way for colleges. The people who are willing to volunteer their time, the people who attend sporting events of the college, the people who volunteer in all kinds of ways and raise money for the colleges, the people who help make connections to help recruit a faculty member or help the college in some other ways are often people who don’t simply feel a one-time connection to that school because they went there, but they feel a multi-generational connection to the school.
And yes, fundraising is part of this. It absolutely is. It’s an important part of it. A family that has sent multiple generations to the same school, if that family happens to have someone who goes off and gets really rich starting a new company, they’re much more likely to supply money to that school.
But I think people misunderstand it when they think of it as just a financial transaction. And they misunderstand it when they ask, why are colleges doing this? The answer is, healthy institutions in all kinds of realms of society tend to have people and families who feel a long-term connection to and investment in those institutions.
So in the minds of these elite, highly-selective colleges, there’s a real and tangible virtue to legacy admissions that’s, as you’re saying, not just financial but cultural and institutional, despite the pretty clear ways in which it furthers the advantages of the rich.
Yes. And let’s also think about the way that these schools have changed. These schools have become a lot more diverse over the last several decades. So yes, legacy still disproportionately benefits white applicants. But with each passing year, it benefits white applicants less.
And the colleges will tell you, we have specifically heard from alumni of ours, alumni of color who say to us, wait a second. You kept us out of your institution for centuries, and right after you let us in, you’re going to get rid of a benefit that might let our children go here as well?
That is another way in which the politics of this are quite complicated internally for colleges.
So given all of that, do we think that legacy admissions, however much people see it as contributing to all this privilege and the process, is likely to persist forever?
Not necessarily. The outcome here is genuinely uncertain, which is part of what makes this so fascinating. Political pressure against legacy admissions really is rising. Wesleyan University, an elite college in Connecticut, just announced that they’re getting rid of it. The Biden administration just announced that it is launching a civil rights investigation of Harvard’s use of legacy admissions.
We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think it’s fair to say that the legacy system is more vulnerable than it has ever been before.
OK. What are other ways that the colleges we’ve been talking about can mitigate against the advantages this study has identified?
Well, there’s one that’s really counterintuitive, which is the SAT. We think of the SAT as perpetuating advantage because high-income kids do better than low-income kids, white and Asian kids do better than Black and Latino kids. But the question is, if colleges aren’t going to use the SAT — and many of them are moving away from it — what are they going to use?
And this study suggests that they may end up using a set of factors that are actually more skewed than the SAT is. So essays and extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations are actually more skewed in favor of the affluent than the SAT is. And I think one of the things that this study suggests is that yes, the SAT reflects a lot of inequality in our society, but it also is a very good predictor of how students will do in college and after.
It is an imperfect measure, to be sure. Rich kids can take the test more than once. They can get private tutoring. But the benefits of all that stuff tends to be modest. And if colleges want to identify really promising lower - and middle-income kids who can go there, there is no tool quite as reliable as the SAT, even though when they’re using it, they need to remember that poor and middle-class kids aren’t likely to have quite as good scores as rich kids.
So you’re saying, of all the gameable metrics that colleges currently rely on that have resulted in so much advantage for the rich, the SAT and the ACT, it might be, in a sense, the least gameable test of someone’s qualification. And therefore, colleges perhaps should be relying on it more than they are.
Yes. And I know a lot of listeners will say, well, what about grades? And grades are a good measure. The problem with using grades alone is we’ve had so much grade inflation in accurate years, and there’s so much inconsistency about what an A means at one high school than another, that grades end up being really noisy. And so you’re left with standardized tests as an imperfect measure but maybe the least imperfect measure of all the options.
David, feels like another way to fix this preference for rich applicants is for colleges to explicitly seek to take more applicants from public schools than from private schools, given the private school polish problem established by this study. That feels highly achievable, and it feels like it would have a pretty big impact on the economic mix of students who attend these colleges.
Yes, I think that’s right. I think if colleges focus on the fact that right now they are disadvantaging many public school kids, they could fix this themselves through the admissions process. But there’s a downside for these colleges whenever we’re talking about them replacing affluent kids with much less affluent kids, which is affluent kids tend to pay full tuition; much less affluent kids do not. They tend to receive large scholarships from the colleges.
And there are a few colleges out there that have such huge endowments that you might say, well, they don’t need any of the tuition money. But really most of these colleges do not have endowments that are so big that they can simply ignore the tuition money. And the tuition money is so large that all of these colleges would need to find a way to make it up if they were to change their student population to admit fewer affluent kids and more lower - and middle-income kids.
Now, it’s important to say, some colleges have done this. Several colleges have become much more economically diverse over the last decade or so. One of them is Vassar College in New York, which does not have a truly enormous endowment. And so what Vassar did was it looked for other cuts to make to its budget. Its food wasn’t quite as fancy as the food at other colleges. You could imagine that colleges might try to cut back on some of the really nice facilities that they now have for students.
You could imagine that colleges would decide to cut back on the amount of administrators they have. The number of administrators who work on college campuses has really soared in accurate decades. So there are ways for colleges to find savings if they decide it is really a priority for them to admit and enroll more low-income kids. They just have to decide what’s a priority for them.
Right. And I feel like the big question that hovers over this conversation — and I want to end on it — is, based on your reporting, do you think these colleges want to make these kinds of changes and want to open up more spots for more economically diverse students? Because in talking to you, it becomes clear that the current system works in some ways for these highly selective schools, right? It works for them financially to have lots of rich kids who pay full tuition. It works for them in that legacy admissions reinforces their culture in ways that are tangibly beneficial.
And let’s be honest, big change is hard, and people may not want to undertake it. So I’m curious if you think the people who run these schools are deeply invested in getting rid of the three things we’ve been talking about, or if they’re looking for ways to preserve them and maintain a status quo that functions pretty well for them, even if it’s very unfair.
I’ve been interviewing college administrators about these subjects for 20 years now, and I think they are legitimately torn. The current system does have tangible benefits for colleges, as we’ve been discussing. But the people running these colleges also care about their larger social mission, which is educating people to help run American society. And they want those people to come from a very broad cross-section of backgrounds.
And so we see these crosscurrents right now, which is for the colleges, the current system has a whole bunch of advantages, and they have internal pressure from alumni groups and others to keep the status quo. On the other hand, there is external pressure now coming on to these colleges to make changes. And I think they’re trying to grapple with where do they end up with all of this.
I think what many critics of the current system would say, including some of the researchers who did this paper, is they really have room to move toward more fairness. Raj Chetty, who’s a Harvard economist, is one of the people who did this research. And what he said to me was, we’ve don’t need to put a thumb on the scale in favor of the poor; we just need to take the thumb off the scale that colleges, perhaps inadvertently, have put in favor of the rich.
Now, I don’t think we know exactly what’s going to change. But the fact that they have had a thumb on the scale in favor of the rich and that we now know they have had a thumb on the scale in favor of the rich, when you combine that with the politics of the Supreme Court decision, I think creates a lot of pressure on them to make some changes in response to the concerns that people have about whether they are fulfilling the mission that colleges themselves say that they have.
Well, David, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Thank you, Michael.
We’ll be right back.
Here’s what else you need to know today. In a dramatic court hearing on Wednesday, the judge overseeing what was expected to be Hunter Biden’s guilty plea to two federal tax charges put the proceedings on hold after a disagreement erupted between Biden’s lawyers and prosecutors. The disagreement centered on whether Biden’s plea, which involves no jail time, would protect him from future prosecution over his business dealings.
Biden’s lawyers said that it would offer such protection, a prospect rejected by the judge. It was the latest twist in a case that has raised questions about whether Hunter Biden has been treated too harshly or too leniently because he is the president’s son. “The Times” reports that the judge could still approve the legal agreement in the coming weeks.
Today’s episode was produced by Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rikki Novetsky, and Stella Tan, with help from Jessica Cheung. It was edited by Lisa Chow and Devin Taylor, fact-checked by Susan Lee, contains original music by Marion Lozano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansverk of Wonderly.
That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.