March 20, 2006

Catching up on last week's news after thesis obsession

This article proposes specific ways that elite colleges could stop admitting almost entirely rich people.

It reads kind of like a paper icarus wrote a long time ago, except that it was published in the Boston Globe, unlike icarus' paper.

Suggestions include:

  • make universities disclose admit rates for legacy vs non-legacy students
  • eliminate early admissions (really, the article says admissions in general but makes a better case for elminating early decision than early action, I think)
  • less spaces reserved for athletes (i'm not sure if it matters which sports we're talking about)
  • work toward class diversity in admissions. Article says that low-income candidates do not "receive the kind of preference still accorded to legacies and recruited athletes"

I quote below the last two paragraphs of the articles with some questions that I hope thoughtful readers will respond to:
But remedying the massive underrepresentation of poor and working-class students will not be easy. It will require, at the very least, a forthright acknowledgment of the problem as well as the adoption of specific measures to address it. Class-based affirmative action programs of the type developed at the University of California in the wake of Proposition 209 (which banned race-based affirmative action) would be a useful first step. But only a redefinition of merit that acknowledges the profound differences in educational opportunity holds a real possibility of bringing more than token class diversity to the Big Three.
What would a redefinition of merit look like if you were making the decision? How would schools define merit? i know the decisions are all fairly arbitrary but there are obviously some critera. what should they be?
Taken together, reforms in these four areas would bring the Big Three a bit more into conformity with their professed ideals but would not dramatically transform them. Yet the tendency of universities to place institutional interests over the interests of students and the broader society suggests that even such modest measures are unlikely to be implemented unless powerful pressure - whether internal, external, or both - is applied. Real change does not come without cost; it is possible, for example, that the elimination of early admission programs might place the Big Three at a competitive disadvantage in the "positional arms race" in higher education and that this disadvantage might even be reflected in a drop in the despised but feared national rankings. But is it too much to ask the leaders of our most prestigious institutions of higher education - institutions that constantly proclaim their commitment to the ideals of meritocracy and inclusion - that they exhibit the same integrity and firmness of character they demand of their applicants?
Is change in these institutions really hopeless? I know we are asking for people who have benefitted from institutions like these ones to radically change them. Is this impossible?

Picture from the article and caption

caption: Harvard's commencement shows plenty of racial diversity among the graduates, but the author says it lacks class diversity. (Reuters Photo)
Clearly, the implied idea that Harvard has plenty of racial diversity isn't true, but it also seems like it's not a necessary presupposition for the class argument so I hope we can talk about class here.

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icarus said...

Thanks so much for posting this. But I think you meant "stop admitting almost entirely rich kids." Right? Although that would be an interesting article too...

An interesting quote (in light of recent class discussion) about the average family income of Harvard students:

"At Harvard, the number was a bit higher, at roughly 12 percent, but the median family income for 2004 freshmen was roughly $150,000."

wannatakethisoutside said...

I fixed that. I really shouldn't post immediately after reading articles like this. They make me klutzy

emily2 said...

culture has a lot to do with it too i think. note the 15%+ asian american number. these are the kids of immigrants, not the wealthy. perhaps their parents have climbed the class ladder into middle classdom, but i think the emphasis on education and upward mobility is the culprit here.

so yeah, i think culture, rather than class, is much more determinative of getting into elite schools. go take a peek into stuyvesant high school in new york (a public magnet school). i think close to 50% of the kids there are asian american. those people aren't rich - otherwise they'd be attending andover or be living in westchester county. many live out in flushing, which is considered the asian ghetto. yet, from an early age, their parents had high expectations and made sure their kids would get an education and get into elite schools. when i was five, my mother informed me that i was going to harvard, and that's where i ended up.

it helps to grow up in an academically charged environment with demanding parents.

i'm surprised the article only skirted the topic of asian americans in one sentence.

(something similar could be said about the high percentage of jewish kids too. there is definitely an emphasis on education there as well.)

also, check this:

emily2 said...

blar. that didn't post properly.

link to "the new white flight"