Changing the Odds

Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the Disadvantaged

David E. Lavin and David Hyllegard

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The open-admissions experiment at the City University of New York was the most ambitious effort ever made to promote equality of opportunity in American higher education. Initiated in 1970, during the heyday of the "great society," it defined college as a right for all who had completed high school, and it especially aimed to create educational opportunities for disadvantaged minority students. This book evaluates that controversial experiment.

Although critics predicted that the open-admissions policy would sweep away academic standards and result in watered-down degrees of little value, David Lavin and David Hyllegard present data to show that students who graduated were able not only to earn postgraduate degrees at non-CUNY institutions but also to obtain good jobs--far better than the jobs they could have expected without the opportunity open admissions gave them. Indeed, in one year in the 1980s, say the authors, open-admissions students earned $67 million more than they would have if they had not gone to college.

Notwithstanding the successes of open admissions, attacks on it have continued, and, as the book shows, minority access to college has been cut back significantly at CUNY and elsewhere. This book provides ammunition for those who want to challenge emerging policies that narrow educational opportunities for minority students and poor people.

David E. Lavin is professor of sociology at Lehman College and at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. David Hyllegard is Director of Institutional Research at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

"There is much to learn in this book about how education does or does not alter the life chances of students from nonprivileged classes. This is a major contribution to the sociology of education."—Peter W. Cookson, Adelphi University

"The authors make a strong claim for the success of open admissions. The book could hardly be more timely, in light of the current policy interests in both expanding access to higher education and improving public accountability of colleges and universities. . . . This book has much to commend and is a worthwhile read. It is well written, with an engaging style and very clear presentation of logic and evidence. The study was imaginatively designed in the best sense, is well integrated with more general sociological and economic studies of the effects of education, and as a result gets good mileage from a fairly small data collection effort. The contributions extend well beyond the framing issue of the effects of CUNY's open admission policy, touching most notable on issues of racial ethnic and postcollegiate life more generally."—Thomas B. Hoffer, American Journal of Education

"In this well-crafted and important book, the basic question Lavin and Hyllegard pose for themselves, and one that makes this book's story more than a local curiosity, is, To what degree did the open-admissions policy facilitate social mobility for disadvantaged students?"—Floyd M. Hammack, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

ISBN: 9780300063288
Publication Date: March 27, 1996
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4