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Elite Schools seen as "Bastions of Privilege" rather than "Engines of Social Justice"

The Economist's columnist Lexington highly recommends a new book about an old problem: "The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates" by Daniel Golden (Amazon.com, Amazon.de):
Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”, from rich or alumni parents to "sporting prowess". The number of whites who benefit from this affirmative action is far greater than the number of blacks. (...)
Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. (...)
Two groups of people overwhelmingly bear the burden of these policies -- Asian-Americans and poor whites.
The above quote -- including the comparison with Europe on social mobility in the brackets -- is from the review in the respected British The Economist. (HT: Don)
Daniel Golden was awarded the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his "series of stories that exposed huge college admissions advantages enjoyed by some privileged white students", available for free at the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE:
Check out the response from Mad Minerva, an Asian-American grad student.

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JW-Atlantic Review on :

More elite school bashing in Newsweek: "Does going to college make students better-educated citizens? A new study of more than 14,000 randomly selected college students from across the country concludes that the answer is often no. Not only did many respondents at the 50 participating colleges fail to answer half of the basic civics questions correctly, but at such elite schools as Cornell, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, the college freshmen scored higher than the college seniors." [url]http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15014682/site/newsweek/print/1/displaymode/1098/[/url] The result of watching too many movies like [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/408-Octoberfest-and-Beerfest-movie.html]Beerfest[/url]? ;-)

David on :

America is not a true democracy; it is a plutocracy: a state run by the wealthy for the benefit of the wealthy. As such, the elite universities mirror the general society - they are primarily finishing schools for the elite ruling class. Still, they have excellent curricula and resources, and have been known to produce traitors to their own class: after all, Harvard produced Roosevelt and JFK.

Hattie on :

Elitism is more of a tendency. That is, certain people are more likely than others to get into elite schools. And they will be able to parlay their educations into good jobs more easily than their less privileged classmates. Brilliant kids whose parents can or will support them or who can figure out how to pay their way can probably go to those schools if they want to. I have known families to put their entire resources behind their kids to get them into Harvard or Yale. But that does not necessarily provide them with admission to the upper crust or even into an academic position at a top-tier school. My son in law went to Cornell, and he comes from a rather modest background. Having finished his Doctorate, he is job hunting and is having a difficult time, as are many young PhDs now. The son of a friend of mine whose background is humble almost beyond imagination saw her son graduate in law from Stanford. I do not know how he has fared. At my second or third tier college, most of my profs had "been to the mountain," graduating from Stanford or Yale or another Ivy school, (One of my least favorite profs began many a lecture by saying, "When I was at Stanford...") mostly getting their doctorates at these prestige places. They were willing to live in this particular area, a middle-sized western city with a mild climate, and jobs in their field were hard to find. I suspect that they were a little disappointed that they couldn't teach at Berkeley or Stanford. So I kind of got an Ivy League education by proxy! I think a lot of the lesser schools are a great bargain in higher education. Certainly this was the case for me. I got an Ivy League education by proxy!

GM Roper on :

"Elitism is more of a tendency." Talk about an understatement. Hattie is correct however. I too went to a regional school (Catholic to boot) and received an excellent education where the focus was learning how to think, rather than learning a great number of so called facts. Facts were there of course, but the emphasis was on a well rounded education with either religion or philosophy required as a 12 semester hour requirement for all students. But even back then (this was in the mid '60s) it was (and should have been) obvious that college was not for everyone. Today's college bachelor's degree is probably worth less (in terms of amount of learning absorbed) than a high-school diploma was 75 years ago. There is an excellent book called [url=http://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-College-Helene-Mandelbaum/dp/B000IJDH80/sr=8-2/qid=1159445602/ref=sr_1_2/002-0366016-5681617?ie=UTF8&s=books]The Case Against College[/url] that was put out in '75 which should be required reading for all high school counselors. There is honor in work of all kinds, whether it be sacking groceries or particle physics, but our over-reliance on a college edudcation has diluted the value of work that doesn't require a college degree. I once had an argument in a graduate class with a fellow student. The class was on Vocational Counseling and this student had noted that her high school counselor had not recommended college and here she was working on a Master's degree in Guidance and Counseling. Unfortunately for her, I had seen samples of her writing and her high school counselor was right. Then I asked the entire class if they knew the name of the lady that came in every night of class and cleaned the room after night class was over. None of them did. As it really ticked me off I gave her name, the fact that her husband had died at an early age and she worked two jobs to put her kids through college and save something for herself for retirement. All I got in exchange for this information was a few eyes rolled up and a grimace or two. Sad, really sad! I would suspect that a substantial number of the "legacy" admissions to the Ivy League schools would have been better off learning a trade, going into the military or some other such activity until they had the opportunity to "Grow Up."

Potsdam Amerikanerin on :

The quoted paragraph mixes two very different ideas when it says "the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive." The fallacy is so glaring that it should be obvious to even the most casual reader: Most Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher (and who have improved their earning power as a result) weren't educated at so-called elite schools. Is the American educational system really so elitist? Let's compare the percentages of people aged 25-34 who have completed [url=http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5440]tertiary type-A education[/url] or "advanced research programmes" in various countries, as given in the OECD's 2006 [url=http://www.sourceoecd.org/upload/9606061e.pdf#search=%22%22attained%20tertiary%20education%22%20%2225-34%22%202006%20oecd%22]Education at a Glance[/url] report (table A1.3a). USA: 30% UK: 23% Germany: 15%. Where is the elitism?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks for your comment, Potsdam Amerikanerin! I agree. The Economist mixes the issues by using the word "But". I don't know, but I guess before the sentence that starts with "But" (that's an untypical start of a sentence, isn't it?) the Economist should have written that income is much higher for graduates from an elite college rather than a community college, *but* elite colleges are becoming more socially exclusive. Does that make sense? Perhaps it was in the draft, but some copy editor deleted that for space reasons...? You ask "Where is the elitism?" and you compare tertiary education in the US with tertiary education in Germany. I know that the OECD and others have criticized that there is not enough tertiary education in Germany. So you have a point there. However the Economist was primarily talking about rising social inequality and decreasing social mobility in the US. Thus we should IMHO compare elitism in the US today with the situation 10 or 20 years ago. Re comparision with Germany: I think the education systems are different. Please correct me if I am wrong (since I am not an educational expert at all), but I thought that Americans go to school at five years of age (in Germany at six) and highschool graduation is 12 years later (in Germany usually 13 years). Thus, American college students are two years younger than Germans. Some people say that the first two years of college take US students to the level of German highschool graduates; and there are supposed to be many reasons for that. Many German highschool graduates, who don't go to university, make a three year [i]Lehre[/i] (vocational training) in a company and with classes in an academy. That does not count as tertiary education for the OECD, does it? However, this vocational training might be comparable to the sort of education you get in some community colleges. I really don't know. Don't get me wrong: community colleges are good. Vocational training in Germany is also good: It's not just on-the-job training, but includes some general education. Elitism is also a problem in Germany: Kids from poor parents are very underrrepresented in universities! We have much less scholarship programs than in the US. This has to change. I was surprised when I read in the Economist: "America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries." I thought America was doing better than Europe in this regard.

alec on :

I don't know, I think you guys are straying from the main argument of Mr. Golden : that there is a lack of meritocracy in the elite universities in America. We are not talking about the education system on the whole, but the 'best of the best' -- that is the top 20 colleges in America (all of which are private, except my alma mater UVa!). What he is addressing is a simple issue (the need for money and the relationships and systems that arise from this need) that manifests itself into numerous areas, most specifically admissions. Elite schools are actively pursuing an agenda that enables under-acheiving upper-class students to attend their universities in the place of qualified middle or lower class students. From my own experience, I've seen this first hand. I'm a recent graduate at UVa and would typically visit friends at other institutions. The common denominator for the people I would encounter at the Ivy leagues would be their class. And I'm not saying I have some Marxist vision of these institutions being bastions of bourgeoise hegemony. But, the majority of people I met were predominately rich.

David on :

Alec, Good points. Harvard at least has made a step in the right direction by ending "early admission". This was a deliberate attempt to bring less affluent students into the institution. Princeton has made a similar move. Let's see if it really changes the class structure.

Don on :

I agree with alec, which has to be a first. The most damning thing in the Economist piece was the quote from the California-Berkeley admissions officer that an income-based admission policy would yield 'too many poor whites and asians'. A state school has no business choosing winners and losers on that basis! Well, no school really does but emphatically state-funded schools paid for by taxes levied upon 'poor whites and asians' do not. The concern of Berkeley and many other schools is affirmative action. But affirmative action is not really the problem we are discussing - it is a seperate issue.

Potsdam Amerikanerin on :

From the description in the link that I gave, it looks like "tertiary type A education and advanced research programmes" would include American degrees from Bachelor's through Doctorate, as well as German degrees from Diplom through Doktor. Ausbildungen, community college degrees, and assorted vocational training seem to be classified as [url=http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5441]tertiary type B[/url] education. From the same table A1.3a (on page 39 of the article I already linked, or on page 41 of the PDF file), the percentages of 25-34 year olds with "tertiary type B" education are as follows. US: 9% UK: 8% Germany: 8%. It's true that the German and American educational systems are different, but they're becoming more similar in some sense. For example, I've been told that in some (or soon all?) Bundesländer, "high school" (ie Gymnasium) graduation now occurs after 12 years instead of 13. I've also been told that many German universities have introduced Bachelor's degrees, which take 3-4 years, and that this is in fact a growing trend in Germany. Unfortunately, your comment that the first year of American college brings US students to the level of German high school graduates rings true for me. Well, maybe it's not that way in the Ivy League, but it certainly seems like that in some state schools. I never know what to make of studies which suggest that "America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries." There's been some interesting discussion about that at [url=http://andrewhammel.typepad.com/german_joys/2006/05/social_mobility.html#comments]German Joys[/url].

anon on :

Most American college-level universities offer one or two years of advanced standing for the German abitur. That holds true for Ivy League schools as well.

alec on :

Random observation too: are you using WordPress Joerge? It gets the trackback, but doesn't focus on where the link comes from, but just takes a snippet from the first part of the post. Basically, all my trackbacks to AR look fairly odd because it isn't around the context of the AR link. Oh well.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I understand the problem you mean. We use the Serendipity software. This software takes the first snipped that you send. What you could do is: Use this service [url]http://www.aylwardfamily.com/content/tbping.asp[/url] and put the relevant snippet that you like into the "Excerpt" field. Or you could mention your blogpost in a comment here.

alec on :

OK, understood. I typically like to include links to posts I like in a rather unorthodox fashion, and they seem even more unorthodox if they are not in the right context. So I'll try to do so in the future. PS dont forget about me at the next carnival (or me forget about the carnival)

Mad Minerva on :

Then somehow, despite my background as social nobody of no financial fortune at all, I made it into the Ivy League by the sweat of my nerdy little brow by studying hard and earning a slot. It *does* happen that some qualified students do make it into the elite schools -- maybe we just beat the odds, but we do exist. None of my friends on campus are from the privileged background of which there has been so much criticism. I'm not saying that elitist admission procedures don't exist; they DO, and the evidence is massive that this is so. I just thought I should point out that despite all, non-elite do get it and in many cases, do well. By the way, FYI, Harvard and Princeton are ending early admission. This is ostensibly supposed to create a more level playing field, so to speak, but somehow I doubt it. But the act of ending this procedure in itself says something. As for those surveys of social mobility, much as I like the Economist, I'm not sure that it's statement (America less socially mobile than Europe") is actually completely true. Anyway, this comment is getting far too long already, but if anyone isinterested, I have a recent post on this elite-admissions topic here: [url]http://madminerva.blog-city.com/elite_schools_for_rich_kids_plus_my_various_rants_and_digres.htm[/url]

Don on :

I am also skeptical of claims that Europe is more socially mobile than the US. I think the rich west is suffering from a common problem here. I don't believe that graduate school admissions are nearly as skewed as undergrad admissions seem to have become. With the possible exception of elite professional programs in business, medicine, and law, graduate schools admission isn't as glittering a prize either from an economic POV or a social one. The figure of 60% of elite schools undergraduate admissions having some form of unfair advantage is shocking, but it's corolary is that 40% are admitted without special eadvantage. Including people like yourself. I think people would be willing to live with 20% being admitted with advantage. Universities need new facilities and contributions to fund scholarship programs and the like. But the 60% figure suggests that the privileged have become the majority - and that is utterly intalerable, particulely in state universities!

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Mad Minerva and Don The following is for you two skeptics :-) Well, I am skeptical myself. I have not had the time to look closely at the methodology. [url=http://nw08.american.edu/~hertz/]Tom Hertz, Assistant Professor of Economics at American University[/url] wrote about it: "+ By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States. + Education, race, health and state of residence are four key channels by which economic status is transmitted from parent to child. + African American children who are born in the bottom quartile are nearly twice as likely to remain there as adults than are white children whose parents had identical incomes, and are four times less likely to attain the top quartile." [url]http://www.americanprogress.org/site/pp.asp?c=biJRJ8OVF&b=1579981[/url] Hertz international comparisions are based on the paper "Do poor children become poor adults? Lessons for public policy from a cross country comparison of generational earnings mobility" by another Economist named Miles Corak: "The United States, the United Kingdom, and to a slightly lesser extent France, stand out as being the least mobile societies, with 40 to 50% of fathers’ earnings advantage being passed on to sons. At the other extreme are Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Canada with about 15 to 20% of earnings advantage passed across generations, and in an intermediate position Germany and Sweden with about 30%." [url]http://www.iza.org/en/papers/Corak280904.pdf[/url]

Mad Minerva on :

Thanks! I haven't had time to look at the methodology either, though whenever we look at studies, the old Winston Churchill quote springs to mind: There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." Stats can be massaged and manipulated, and if my brief encounter with a college statistics course did anything, it demonstrated the fact that stats are imperfect things indeed. I can't speak from stats, but I can give you anecdotal evidence of my own relatives and various friends who started with nothing but progressed. The story of any number of immigrants is like this (I won't bore you with stories of various relatives who came to the US with nothing and are now successful in their careers). Of course maybe the study in question is more focused on the urban poor, the uneducated and unskilled poor, and so forth. These groups may indeed find it more difficult to break the cycle of poverty -- and I hate to say it, but welfare systems don't always help either. Suffice it to say, though, there are certainly different kinds of "poor" in this discussion. All I can really say is, from my own limited perspective, social mobility seems to be still alive and functioning. Plenty of my friends and acquaintances are making more money than their parents did.

Don on :

Hmmm, I read some of the paper you cited and a bit of the study which Andrew Hammel cited over on German Joys. Some of it rings true - though some of it may be a little overstated - or compare two very different countries (the US and Sweden in the study cited by Hammel. Only 1% of the poor rise into the top 5%. This sounds worse than it is give that in a perfectly equal society *only* 5% of the poor would rise into the top 5%! No? Even so, there is a point here. The fact that a large proportion of the US black population seem to belong to an 'underclass' is widely documented and nothing new. When reading the time basis of the study Andrew cited a light came on in my head. They speak of the late 50's. When Sweden was still a mostly homogeneous country and the US was about to discover the underclass - with it's extraordinary and seemingly intractable problems - which have baffled two entire generations of our poverty-wallahs. Approximately twice as much social mobility among poor caucasians than among poor blacks - again no suprise. Today may be a different situation - or it may not. We'll know better in another decade I think. By this I mean that the last major root and branch reform of the US welfare system occurred in 1996 and we get the results with about a 20 to 30 year lag. WHich brings me to my point about Andrew's study. A study beginning in the late 50's largely measures the performance of the Swedish welfare system between 1959 and perhaps 1990 - a period when Sweden had no discernable underclass. Today Sweden may have developed an underclass - the signs are not promising from what I've been reading. Nor do the traditional programs the Swedes have used seem to work nearly as well with the new population. Thus far. We'll see. It's still early days of course. Similar remarks could be made about Germany - though Germany has not been as homgeneous as Sweden was since the 70's at least. The Turks do seem to have some of the characteristics of an US-style underclass in Germany - most notably the lack of social mobility. Look at France. The 'car-be-que' suburbs of Paris were once known as the 'Red suburbs'. The reds seemed have moved out to be replaced with Muslim immigrants since 1980 - a mark of both social mobility (Reds moving up and out) and stagnant underclass (Muslims staying where they are).

alec on :

Did you go to Brown or Columbia by any chance? I've heard and seen the same valid criticisms applied to the Ivy's (especially Harvard, Yale, and UPenn) but not so much Brown or Columbia.

Potsdam Amerikanerin on :

Some of the comments here may be straying from the main argument of Mr. Golden, but they're definitely not straying from the main point of the Economist article. Daniel Golden's book, which is discussed in the Economist article, concerns the admissions practices of "Elite Colleges". The Economist's "Lexington" (Adrian Woolridge?), using sleight of hand, then overgeneralizes about American universities in general. Of course, any conclusions drawn in such a way are complete non sequiturs. Private schools have every right to choose their own admission standards, and (of course) writers like Golden have every right to disagree with those choices. However, the second half of the article, beginning "Why do Mr Golden's findings matter so much?", strays far from this topic. Having established that elite colleges unfairly benefit those who are already privileged, "Lexington" then implies that poor, underprivileged students have nowhere else to turn for higher education, and are therefore doomed to earn half as much as the overprivileged elites who usurped their rightful classroom seats! But of course, this gloomy scenario overlooks many other options. Private degree-granting institutions in the US currently enroll 4.2 million students[url=http://165.224.221.98/programs/quarterly/vol_3/3_1/q6_1.asp]*[/url], whereas public degree-granting institutions enroll over 13 million students. Ignoring these other options, the writer just moans that "the poor are left behind," and then throws in a few remarks about racism. The "quote" about Berkeley, in particular, was completely inappropriate. To the best of my knowledge, UC Berkeley doesn't even use legacy preferences in its admissions process. What is the real origin of that quote? Golden's [url=http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~malkan/golden.html]July 12, 2002 WSJ article[/url] attributes it to a completely different source. In a discussion of a new UC admissions system, Golden wrote the following. [quote]Latino legislative leader Marco Antonio Firebaugh, a force behind adoption of the new system, agrees: "We found that using poverty yields a lot of poor white kids and poor Asian kids," he says.[/quote] In the Economist article, the context of the quote implies that it was made by a Berkeley admissions officer. As another commenter said, it would indeed be a particularly damning quote for such a person to make. However, we see now that the comment was actually made by someone else entirely.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ Potsdam Amerikanerin Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Great criticism. We need more of this kind of criticism! Just one thing: In another comment further up you said that Ausbildungen are included in tertiary education type B. But the OECD says there is only 8% of it in Germany. That seems to be a bit low, if they count Ausbildungen.

Potsdam Amerikanerin on :

I'll repost links to the OECD's definitions of tertiary type [url=http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5440]A[/url] and [url=http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5441]B[/url] education here. In the "type B" data, the OECD only seems to consider programs with a minimum duration of two years. The German percentage seemed low to me, too...

Don on :

Well - yes it is damning. Apparently when Berkeley consulted with the state legislature the aim was to avoid 'too many' poor Whites and Asians. To see how damning turn it around. What if the Legislature designed a program to avoid getting 'too many poor blacks and Latinos'? That would be rampant racism would it not? As this is.....

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Over at [url=http://madminerva.blog-city.com/elite_schools_for_rich_kids_plus_my_various_rants_and_digres.htm]Mad Minerva[/url], where this subject is also discussed, James C. (who blogs at [url=http://jameschen.blogspot.com/]http://jameschen.blogspot.com/[/url] made this interesting comment. [i]If 40% of students receive some type of financial aid at Princeton, then 60% don't need it at all. Now, a Princeton education (or other Ivy-type school) costs some $40,000 a year. That's a staggering amount of money, even for someone with income in the low-to-mid $100,000s. Basically, this means that the AVERAGE ivy student has financial resources that places their families in the top 2-3% of all Americans. That's not a true representation of Americans at all![/i]

JW-Atlantic Review on :

[quote="LSE"]"Researchers from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have compared the life chances of British children with those in other advanced countries for a study sponsored by the Sutton Trust, and the results are disturbing. Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Steve Machin found that social mobility in Britain - the way in which someone's adult outcomes are related to their circumstances as a child - is lower than in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. And while the gap in opportunities between the rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider. A careful comparison reveals that the USA and Britain are at the bottom with the lowest social mobility. Norway has the greatest social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Germany is around the middle of the two extremes, and Canada was found to be much more mobile than the UK. Comparing surveys of children born in the 1950s and the 1970s, the researchers went on to examine the reason for Britain's low, and declining, mobility. They found that it is in part due to the strong and increasing relationship between family income and educational attainment."[/quote] [u][b][url=http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/newsAndEvents/archives/2005/LSE_SuttonTrust_report.htm]Download study.[/url][/b] [/u]

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