Tuesday, October 02, 2007

So it isn't just me...another prof weighs in on the rich/white/jock advantage

From Boston.com

At the elite colleges - dim white kids
By Peter Schmidt
September 28, 2007

AUTUMN AND a new academic year are upon us, which means that selective colleges are engaged in the annual ritual of singing the praises of their new freshman classes.

Surf the websites of such institutions and you will find press releases boasting that they have increased their black and Hispanic enrollments, admitted bumper crops of National Merit scholars or become the destination of choice for hordes of high school valedictorians. Many are bragging about the large share of applicants they rejected, as a way of conveying to the world just how popular and selective they are.

What they almost never say is that many of the applicants who were rejected were far more qualified than those accepted. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, it was not the black and Hispanic beneficiaries of affirmative action, but the rich white kids with cash and connections who elbowed most of the worthier applicants aside.

Researchers with access to closely guarded college admissions data have found that, on the whole, about 15 percent of freshmen enrolled at America's highly selective colleges are white teens who failed to meet their institutions' minimum admissions standards.

Five years ago, two researchers working for the Educational Testing Service, Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose, took the academic profiles of students admitted into 146 colleges in the top two tiers of Barron's college guide and matched them up against the institutions' advertised requirements in terms of high school grade point average, SAT or ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and records of involvement in extracurricular activities. White students who failed to make the grade on all counts were nearly twice as prevalent on such campuses as black and Hispanic students who received an admissions break based on their ethnicity or race.

Who are these mediocre white students getting into institutions such as Harvard, Wellesley, Notre Dame, Duke, and the University of Virginia? A sizable number are recruited athletes who, research has shown, will perform worse on average than other students with similar academic profiles, mainly as a result of the demands their coaches will place on them.

A larger share, however, are students who gained admission through their ties to people the institution wanted to keep happy, with alumni, donors, faculty members, administrators, and politicians topping the list.

Applicants who stood no chance of gaining admission without connections are only the most blatant beneficiaries of such admissions preferences. Except perhaps at the very summit of the applicant pile - that lofty place occupied by young people too brilliant for anyone in their right mind to turn down - colleges routinely favor those who have connections over those who don't. While some applicants gain admission by legitimately beating out their peers, many others get into exclusive colleges the same way people get into trendy night clubs, by knowing the management or flashing cash at the person manning the velvet rope.

Leaders at many selective colleges say they have no choice but to instruct their admissions offices to reward those who financially support their institutions, because keeping donors happy is the only way they can keep the place afloat. They also say that the money they take in through such admissions preferences helps them provide financial aid to students in need.

But many of the colleges granting such preferences are already well-financed, with huge endowments. And, in many cases, little of the money they take in goes toward serving the less-advantaged.

A few years ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education looked at colleges with more than $500 million in their endowments and found that most served disproportionately few students from families with incomes low enough to qualify for federal Pell Grants. A separate study of flagship state universities conducted by the Education Trust found that those universities' enrollments of Pell Grant recipients had been shrinking, even as the number of students qualifying for such grants had gone up.

Just 40 percent of the financial aid money being distributed by public colleges is going to students with documented financial need. Most such money is being used to offer merit-based scholarships or tuition discounts to potential recruits who can enhance a college's reputation, or appear likely to cover the rest of their tuition tab and to donate down the road.

Given such trends, is it any wonder that young people from the wealthiest fourth of society are about 25 times as likely as those from the bottom fourth to enroll in a selective college, or that, over the past two decades, the middle class has been steadily getting squeezed out of such institutions by those with more money?

A degree from a selective college can open many doors for a talented young person from a humble background. But rather than promoting social mobility, our nation's selective colleges appear to be thwarting it, by turning away applicants who have excelled given their circumstances and offering second chances to wealthy and connected young people who have squandered many of the advantages life has offered them.

When social mobility goes away, at least two dangerous things can happen. The privileged class that produces most of our nation's leaders can become complacent enough to foster mediocrity, and less-fortunate segments of our society can become resigned to the notion that hard work will not get them anywhere.

Given the challenges our nation faces, shouldn't its citizens be at least a little worried that the most selective public universities - state flagships - dominate the annual Princeton Review rankings of the nation's best party schools, as measured largely by drug and alcohol consumption and time spent skipping class and ditching the books?

Should Harvard, which annually turns away about 2,000 valedictorians and has an endowment of nearly $35 billion, be in the business of wasting its academic offerings on some students admitted on the basis of pedigree?

Peter Schmidt is a deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education and author of "Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action."

13 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an excellent article, but let's not act like this is something that people didn't know about. Our institutes of higher learning have become glorified finishing schools for the scions of the elite. A lot of people assumed that the social mobility that followed WWII, and the original GI Bill was going to last forever, but it hasn't, and we're moving more towards the era of the Carnegies, and Astors, than we are the era of the Greatest Generation.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know there numerous smaller colleges that are much more open to new applicants? There are several in Texas. One is Mary Hardin Baylor. Another is Texas Lutheran College.

Graduates should look into these colleges. They are affordable but have smaller classes and campuses. There are several Methodist colleges, as well. They may not have the best football teams, but they provide freshmen more attention, and they are dedicated to caring for new students. They are also much less expensive.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Sean said...

sigh...talk about something truly un-American. the fact that it's politicians weaseling their un-qualified kids in.!.. no respect for the ideals this country was founded on...they're supposed to be upholding those.

12:42 AM  
Blogger mom said...

Right - at my elite institution, "ability to pay" is still one of the factors in admission!

That's ON TOP of the 15% referenced in the article.

Also -- in terms of the dim-factor, let's remember that the boys are dimmer than the girls - as schools strive for parity in an envirnment in which female applicant now significantly outperform their male counterparts.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This artilce points out something that is so obvious it is amazing to me that people can actually get upset or act as if it is relevant. AMERICA IS NOT A MERITOCRACY. If reading the article pissed you off, you're dumb and belong where you are in life. Stop being bitter.

XOXO
2.7

1:22 AM  
Anonymous guest007 said...

Of course what of the contributing factors to this admission is that America still believes that the dumbest person at Harvard is much smarter than the smartest person at Northeastern or the University of Massachuetts.

It makes you wonder about all of the high paid human resources offices who seem to be unable to determine who was a beneficiary of non-academic admission to top tier universities and who actually learned something.

And last, if these colleges did not practice such rampant grade inflation, it would be easier to stop the legacy admissions.

6:58 AM  
Anonymous stan said...

Phantom P, I'd like to know whether u think Watergate was just staged or that if the Patriot Act would compare to similar actions on the leaders of the free world nations.

In addition, I'd recommend you'd stick to the theatrical reviews of most importance.

Thank you very much,

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey the words are very affordable these days. Like in 'Wise Measure Bob' or 'Jobless Butt' or 'Pull Who' or 'Keep Your Teeth'

The Freedom of Information Act provides for all people to know how they privates are used for the benefit of theirselves. Then there is John Postcard. Hottie!

Andrew.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watergate is what your father and the people currently in power in your country make you believe its the freedom of the people to decide. It was staged, it beat as a scandal the Kennedy assesination of 1963, and Bob will never, ever record again without me snooping on his concerts. Ever.

In addition, I'd not recommend you review that sad moment with random occurrence and mostly done of most importance.

P. N.

10:33 PM  
Blogger mattbg said...

Malcolm Gladwell did a good article on this kind of thing a few years ago. Here's the link.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous ns said...

I wonder how these two researchers, Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose, were able to determine from the name of a student accepted what their ties were? Did they just cross reference the list of student names with the names of all alumi/politicians/administrators? If so, how did they get this 2nd list? And how would they associate these names - if the students happened to have different last names?

I tend to be skeptical of articles like this - it's too difficult to determine who is "connected" unless they are obviously famous.

I'd be interested to know what method these two researchers used to determine if a student was "connected" or not.

12:47 PM  
OpenID mybackstage said...

Does anyone have the citation for this actual study? I'd love to use it when teaching about affirmative action.

6:54 PM  
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