Economic Inequality and College Admissions Policies

24 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2015 Last revised: 12 Jan 2017

See all articles by David Orentlicher

David Orentlicher

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

Date Written: September 10, 2015


As economic inequality in the United States has reached unprecedented heights, reformers have focused considerable attention on changes in the law that would provide for greater equality in wealth among Americans. More equitable tax policies, fairer workplace regulation, and more generous spending policies would do much to promote equity.

But there is even more to gain by revising college admissions policies. Admissions policies at the Ivy League and other elite American colleges greatly exacerbate the problem of economic inequality. Accordingly, reforming those policies may represent the most effective strategy for restoring a reasonable degree of economic equality in the United States.

More specifically, elite universities can do much to promote economic equality by adopting “top class rank” admissions policies. Indeed, some public universities already have adopted top class rank policies, though primarily in order to promote student body diversity. While the impact on student diversity is a key feature of top rank policies, this article focuses on their ability to turn elite universities from institutions that exacerbate economic inequality into institutions that foster economic equality.

Keywords: economic inequality, college admissions, top class rank, affirmative action

JEL Classification: D19, H41, I29, I31, K39

Suggested Citation

Orentlicher, David, Economic Inequality and College Admissions Policies (September 10, 2015). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2016, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-41, Available at SSRN: or

David Orentlicher (Contact Author)

University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

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