Regional diversity is one factor among many that is used to determine which students gain admittance to private colleges in the US. It is an admirable idea. In theory, such policies are designed to bring together, in each incoming class, students from diverse urban communities and rural outposts across the nation. In reality, however, the policies rarely, if ever, result in national institutions, and do little to promote diversity.
Take Harvard. Regional diversity policies notwithstanding, a 2015 article in the Harvard Crimson reported that while only 23.2 per cent of the US population comes from New York, New Jersey, California and Massachusetts, students from these four states made up more than half of the 2018 incoming class at Harvard Universit.
But this doesn’t mean that regional diversity policies have no impact. Urban populations, especially those in the north-east, are disproportionately impacted by them. And, presumably, this has always been the intended – if not clearly stated – purpose.
Consider the policies’ origins. By the 1920s, elite colleges in the north-east were beginning to fret about the high number of admitted Jewish students. This prompted Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell to propose capping Jewish admits at 15 per cent of the total (the proposal was later rejected). Around the same time, Harvard and other elite north-eastern colleges recognised another trend: an exceptionally high number of admitted students were graduates of just a few highly selective public high schools in New York City, including Stuyvesant High School.