September 25, 2007

"The New College Try."

In today's New York Times, there is this op-ed about admission to elite colleges. Professor Jerome Karabel writes:

Despite their image as meritocratic beacons of opportunity, the selective colleges serve less as vehicles of upward mobility than as transmitters of privilege from generation to generation.

He adds:

Just how skewed the system is toward the already advantaged is illustrated by the findings of a recent study of 146 selective colleges and universities, which concluded that students from the top quartile of the socioeconomic hierarchy (based on parental income, education and occupation) are 25 times more likely to attend a “top tier” college than students from the bottom quartile.

What do you think about the piece? What do you think about his proposal of a partial "lottery" for admissions spots? What kind of solutions exist for balancing a desire for high academic standards while taking into account advantages conferred by class privilege? Other thoughts/comments?

See a previous Quench post about college admissions here.


emily2 said...

hrm, the author sometimes uses "admit" and "attend" interchangeably. i wonder how many people are admitted but can't attend because they can't afford it. i think harvard took a step in the right direction by giving free rides to everyone whose family's income fell under a certain threshold. if you get in, you should be able to go. period.

i would oppose any admission policy that measures applicants using different standards for any reason. this means no legacy admissions, no special treatment for athletes, and no affirmative action, race or socio-economic based. (i have a feeling i've contradicted myself on this point sometime in the past, but this is what i believe right now.)

Anonymous said...

When I read this article yesterday, I was thinking about this very issue.

Particularly on quench but generally on the far left at Harvard, I had spent many years critiquing what "merit" means, and talking with others who had a shared understanding of the problems with so-called meritocracy.

Then, yesterday I was calling employers to "check if they got my resume" (read: remind them that I want to work there). Nearly all of them said "are you the one who went to Harvard?"

As much as we critique what it means to have a degree from an elite college (this is *definitely* not limited to Harvard), when we get on the phone and look for a job, the person on the other end often assumes that we are particularly smart, hard-working, or more qualified than other folks, even if they worked just as hard in a less well-known college or teaching themselves.

Even the little things at a school like Harvard can get to you. For example, work study jobs that pay $10 an hour. That means you only have to work half as much as people who go to schools where work study is closer to $5 an hour, or alternatively that you can graduate with savings.


garçon-fille said...

I don't think the lottery idea works out. If, as suggested, the lottery requires a certain academic threshold to enter, then by sheer logic and probability those with privileged backgrounds have a much higher chance of 'winning' the lottery. Not on a person by person basis, but as a total proportion of students admitted by the lottery the number of privileged students would be greater. The author has already commented that those with privilege are more likely to meet the academic standards than those without for various reasons.

I also think that adding a lottery would not bring a sense of "humility", but would rather add to many students' general anxiety and feelings of low self-worth. Besides which, those born into privilege and expecting special treatment are pre-conditioned to believe that they are amazing--they would simply scoff at the idea that they didn't get in on merit (i.e. that they might have only been admitted by lottery). You see, rich people are made to believe that they deserve to be rich while poor people are made to believe that, while they can become rich, they don't really deserve it.

tea cozy said...

SNAPS to garcon-fille's second paragraph. It's a troubling situation, but I don't think a lottery would help at all, for reasons already detailed... generous need-based financial aid with no loans (like the kind I get) is, I think, the best schools can do at the moment... along with programs like HFAI's (?) minority recruitment program (somebody correct me if I have the details of this wrong, as I suspect I do).