Skip to comments.How Elite Colleges Drive Income Inequality
Posted on 05/26/2013 7:31:42 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
By David Wilezol
In the last few months, there's been a flurry of articles in the mainstream press acknowledging the same problem: a paucity of high-achieving, low-income students at elite colleges. "Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor," says the New York Times. ABC tells us "Colleges Struggle to Connect With High-Achieving Poor Students." Likewise, NPR is concerned that "Elite Colleges Struggle To Recruit Smart, Low-Income Kids."
Why does it matter that top-performing low-income students aren't making it into the best schools? After all, many other above-average schools would be happy to accept them and even give them adequate grant or scholarship money. And its likely that a worthy degree from a competitive institution would give these students at least a decent shot at moving up the income ladder. Harvard grad Ross Douthat has an answer that Ivy-leaguers knew long ago: "...elite universities are about connecting more than learning... the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates." The absence of low-income students in elite higher education underscores its failure to facilitate social advancement.
Higher education in general hasn't done a good job of serving low-income people. As Richard Vedder has noticed: "In 1970, 12 percent of recent college graduates came from the bottom quartile of the income distribution; 40 years later, the percentage was 7.3 percent." Jeffrey Selingo, a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education, has pointed out in his terrific new book College Unbound that just 8% of the lowest income group gets a B.A. vs. 82% from the highest income group.
The picture is similar at America's top colleges. The 200 most selective colleges take only 15% of applicants from in bottom half of income distribution. 7 in 10 students at those colleges come from top income groups. And the Harvard Crimson, summarizing an important NBER paper by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery, reported that "only 34 percent of high-achieving high school seniors from the bottom quartile of the income distribution went on to attend one of the country's highly-ranked selective schools."
Of course, lower-income students have fewer resources for accessing top colleges: less money for application and test fees, fewer role models, fewer guidance counselors. These persistent inequalities cannot be mitigated by elite colleges alone. But assuming that the elite colleges feel some obligation to enroll low-income students, their own recruiting efforts are currently subpar. A recent op-ed in the New York Times captured well the pessimism of students from rural, poor backgrounds with high aspirations. The writer, who grew up impoverished in Nevada but is now an English professor, noticed that more selective schools didn't appear in conversations about college:
By the time they're ready to apply to colleges, most kids from families like mine -- poor, rural, no college grads in sight -- know of and apply to only those few universities to which they've incidentally been exposed. Your J.V. basketball team goes to a clinic at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; you apply to U.N.L.V. Your Amtrak train rolls through San Luis Obispo, Calif.; you go to Cal Poly. I took a Greyhound bus to visit high school friends at the University of Nevada, Reno, and ended up at U.N.R. a year later, in 2003.
If top colleges are looking for a more comprehensive tutorial in recruiting the talented rural poor, they might take a cue from one institution doing a truly stellar job: the military.
Of course, the U.S. military can recruit on a much larger scale than elite collegess due to their greater personnel demands and budgetary allowances. But their success should still inspire our elite schools. To that end, perhaps our top schools should create regional cooperatives that establish contacts with and assist top students in the admissions process.
Even if schools did a better job of recruiting these students, it is increasingly not in their financial interest to do so. The current financial model of private colleges is to keep tuition prices high so as to capture a great amount of money from students who can afford to pay top dollar. This money then funds fanciful construction projects and superfluous creature comforts for students, which, as this essay in the Atlantic pointed out, do wonders to attract more of the same students.
Furthermore, when they do accept low-income students, many fairly prestigious colleges are comfortable loading up students with loans and shortchanging them on grants. A remarkable new report from the New America Foundation exposes some well-regarded schools' practice of enrolling a low percentage of low-income students and sticking them with a high tuition bill. In fact, "nearly two-thirds of private nonprofit institutions charge students from the lowest income families a net price of more than $15,000." At Boston University, for instance, only 15% of students accept Pell Grants (given to financially needy students), but the net price for those students is still around $24,000 per year. Similar statistics reflect the reality at Carnegie Mellon and American University. At Santa Clara University, 15% of the students take Pell Grants, but still are expected to contribute $46, 347 per year.
In fairness, many of the elite schools, most notably Harvard and Princeton, have a de facto policy of not letting any student whose family makes less than $30,000 per year pay anything. MIT, Stanford, and Rice are among the best schools on the New America Foundation's chart, with Amherst being the very best (Pell Grant students there have an annual expected contribution of only $448 per year). I have written that an education at the most elite institutions is worth a high amount of debt, but at many schools, like the ones above, that becomes much less of a value proposition. The author of the report noted that colleges could enroll and support low-income students if they wanted to, but that the "relentless pursuit of prestige" deters them. Truly elite schools (with massive endowments and operating budgets) can offer more money than second-tier private schools that are grasping for elite status. They will always have a high demand of people willing to pay their tuition rates. Conversely, second-tier private schools have to compete harder for an ever-shrinking pool of the most moneyed clients. They will never capture the revenues that the Ivies do, and will eventually become forced to offer less money to their needier students. Alas, this is another unfortunate consequence of private schools trying to emulate the economic model of their elite counterparts.
Lastly, there is a fundamental disagreement between collegiate leadership and students on the reason for college. Only 39% of college presidents in a recent survey said that the price of a university or college degree was a "very important" consideration. 65% said it was a "very important" consideration whether the percentage of students from their university are able to get a good job. And these are college presidents. Conversely, a survey of 192,000 freshmen revealed that students had many motives for going to college, but the answer that got the highest percentage of affirmative answers (88%) was "to get a better job." In an age when most students care about credentialization over learning, the presidents are tone deaf. The proliferation of novelty and unrenumerative academic programs, combined with the polyannish sales pitches of admissions and financial departments, has produced at least two generations of college students who think they can major in anything, take on debt, and still be secure in their economic future.
Ironically, the abandonment of poor students by so many prestigious schools directly contradicts their core leitmotif: social justice. For all their rhetoric about "fairness," and "empowerment," the private university's business model usually depends on enrolling an abundance of rich students and burdening the poor ones. Higher-ed watchers often scold the university from abrogating its role of in loco parentis, especially on sexual matters. Letting the poor absorb crushing financial weight is just as pernicious.
David Wilezol is the co-author, with William J. Bennett, of the new book Is College Worth It?
(Photo: Harvard. Source: Harvard.)
Oh boy ...... more social engineering being pushed by libs. That always turns out good. One thing I’ve learned is that everything in life isn’t fair.
It's almost like that's the plan.
Frankly, trade schooling pays better than most College Education. The “talented poor” are doing far better than the Elite College students.
Limousine liberals are only good at imposing virtues on others, usually their own family members who have paid for their high priced "education".
You have to admit that Harvard turns out a better class of liars, thieves and cheats.
better than dartmouth (geitner, immelt, reich, etc.)???
A Harvard education is probably just as good as a Oklahoma State University education. Except one costs $150,000 for four years, and the other is around $60,000 for four years (in-state tuition, of course).
Income “inequality”? I guess there’s plenty of that between the average janitor and the average trial lawyer. So would the libs want the government to pass a law requiring janitors and lawyers make the same salary? I’m sure many janitors would be thrilled at that. Not so sure about the liberal trial lawyers though.
The purpose of colleges and universities is to impart and advance knowledge. Nothing else. For its students to network and use that knowledge to succeed financially is a consequence outside of colleges and universities purview.
A telling statement in the article; "If top colleges are looking for a more comprehensive tutorial in recruiting the talented rural poor, they might take a cue from one institution doing a truly stellar job: the military."
The Armed Forces recruits in furtherance of its purpose, to maintain the most effective fighting force in the world. It does so by offering paying jobs with benefits and extensive training to those with potential and desire. It recognizes the significant social development and employment skills its members gain. But it rightfully doesn't consider these as part of its purpose.
Academe needs to quit worrying about being social services and concentrate on its actual purpose of being a knowledge factory.
Better than Princeton? Elliot Spitzer, Ralph Nader and Michelle Obama?
Seriously, this article is so much propaganda. Harvard has a huge proportion of poor and minority students. They pay little or no tuition. And it’s not just the athletes.
Your average state university is probably more liberal.
I'm sure there are some — but probably not nearly as many as the libs would like to believe.
“Frankly, trade schooling pays better than most College Education. The talented poor are doing far better than the Elite College students.”
I agree with you 100%. Unfortunately the elite academics in many parts of the country are taking over the community colleges and working to turn them into four year liberal arts schools. Programs in woodworking, auto mechanics, and plumbing are being dropped in favor of non-skill curriculum designed to prepare students to transfer to 4 year degree programs at the state university. As these college prep programs grow, the administrators are pushing to allow the community college to offer 4 year degrees.
If the states and federal government truly want to help lower income students the best way to spend the money would be to beef up technical and trade school education at the local community college level. Of course, that means less money for professors at Yale to waste on studying the condom preferences of minority students or the mating habits of boring bees.
Despite the billions being wasted on education an acclaimed two year degree woodworking program at a community college in a nearby county was closed due to lack of funding. The program was always filled with students and most of its graduates easily found work at cabinet shops in the region making good money. However, when budgets were tight, the administrators chose to cut technical education instead of the college prep courses which were deemed more important.
One more example that for the elites education is about feeding the education establishment, not teaching skills to young people.
My first thought, too. Are we supposed to accept the premise that income inequality is a bad thing? An idiotic Marxist notion, with the intellectual pedigree of a kindergarten mud pie recipe.
I was the first member of my family to go to college.
My parents were part of the lower middle class.
I chose a college near home and did well. I also had a good
choice of graduate schools. Why would I even consider an elite private college with most of my classmates from upper income groups and a prep school background? I would not have fit in nor done well in that academic setting.
“Why does it matter that top-performing low-income students aren’t making it into the best schools?”
Anecdotally, it appears to matter, IF using the big-name-college degree is to use it’s network of (a) alumni in the major coporations, and (b) everyone else in business (or government) who is impressed by a big-name-degree, to obtain a leg-up when starting their career.
HOWEVER, a study that was done at the Manhattan Institute a number of years ago, regarding “minority” students entering college with a law degree in mind, found that getting into an “elite” college was no panacea, and in fact, their “minority” peers who did not get into elite colleges were fairing better in their careers, on average, ten years after graduation.
The study followed “minority” students entering college to pursue a law degree, from high school graduation to 20 years later.
Those who accepted an “affirmative action” slot at an elite school (a) found that the expectations of them and the competition was daunting, more than they expected, and, they quit college altogether or switched schools before obtaining their bachelors degree, more often than their “minority” peers who did not take that college route.
Also, the “minority” students who did not take the “affirmative action” rooute, and in spite of graduating from a less prestiguous school, they rose from the bottom to associate, partner or their own practice in greater numbers within ten years of graduation than their “minority” peers who got an “affirmative action” slot at an elite law school. Becoming a little fish in a big pond at the most prestigous law firms can obtain a starting salary that is higher than peers graduating from less prestiguous schools and joining less prestiguous firms, but the study showed they were not as far along in their careers, on average, than their peers who took a less elite route, in school and in first employer.
“Harvard grad Ross Douthat has an answer that Ivy-leaguers knew long ago: “...elite universities are about connecting more than learning... the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates.”
Yes, its about the “network”, however, more than one study shows that it does have its shinning examples, but it is not a panacea. Raw intelligence, drive, tenacity, dedication count more in the long run. The cover of the book may make a great first impression, but in time the readers have to remain interested.
“In 1970, 12 percent of recent college graduates came from the bottom quartile of the income distribution; 40 years later, the percentage was 7.3 percent.”
Gee, let me see - they are told by everyone in and out of government to give more points for being a “minority”, for being a female or for filling their ethnic “diversity” quotas, above any priority of simply “low income with great scholastic record” and what do you get? You get exactly what the colleges produced.
My own personal view is that the only thing that is presently sustaining the income rewards of an “elite” college degree is business world’s acceptance of what I believe is a myth that it produces anything “better” in any real sense. Its only “better” because the business world and government too keeps rewarding it, not because they or us would be any worse off if they didn’t.
So that future generations can have the agony of a government like our present Obama/Holder/Clinton cesspool. (Clintons provided the trailer trash diversity.)
The entire liberal agenda fails, and fails every time. But they keep on believing they can change human nature and defy the laws of the universe because they are so d*mned smart.
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