Webinar Series II: Meritocracy and American Higher Ed

June 6, 2019
12:30 – 1:30 PM ET

Second in a series of 3 webinars. Buy 2, get the 3rd free.

What exactly do institutions mean by merit? If students are admitted only on the basis of “merit,” independent of “subjective” factors, what does that mean? The recent “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal and the affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard University have punctuated issues that higher education leaders and governing boards need to grapple with as they consider issues of college access, social mobility, and student success.

The idea of a meritocracy remains one of our most enduring cultural values: anyone in America, we tell ourselves, can improve one’s lot in life by virtue of talent, determination, and effort. The country, we believe, was founded on the premise of citizen self-determination, enabled by a form of government markedly distinct from old world monarchies, oligarchies, and feudal societies. For generations, college has been understood as a key enabler, and perhaps the main carrier, of that vision. But is meritocracy a useful concept today as it relates to higher education?

On some economic measures, the millennial generation will be the first in living memory not to surpass their parents. Today, what it takes to gain access to college, persist to completion, and repay student debt presents a real barrier to many families. Further, traditional college entrance measures of student “merit”—standardized test scores, high school grades, and extra-curricular achievements—depend remarkably on family wealth and access to high-performing schools. As the electorate becomes increasingly sensitive to wealth disparities in American society, questions continue to grow about whether colleges and universities truly facilitate, rather than inhibit, merit-based opportunity.

Join us for a provocative webinar with leading experts on a topic of concern to all governing boards.


  • John Ottenhoff, interim COO, AGB


  • Marybeth Gasman, Berkowitz professor of education, University of Pennsylvania; trustee, Paul Quinn College
  • Debra Humphreys, vice president of strategic engagement, Lumina Foundation
  • Felecia Commodore, assistant professor of educational foundations and leadership, Old Dominion University