Saturday, April 07, 2007

College and Economic Inequality

Harvard University Library

Are the nations top Colleges simply "finishing schools" or Country Clubs for students from affluent families? Do these elite Colleges, with their name recognition, contribute to the high inequality in America- in a sense helping to maintain wealth for the rich kids who attend, and helping to kill dreams for those who are rejected?

I say that these elite institutions are contributing to the inequality gap. There is a certain status or priviledge that is attained simply for attending a Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, or any of the other institutions that are comparable to these schools. Such status follows the graduate for the rest of his or her life, and becomes almost an elite pass, making a life of affluence much easier to reach.

Yet those who are not rich often find it hard to enter the higher social/economic classes because they are often locked out of these kinds of institutions. Since Higher Education has so often been viewed as the key or pathway for those of lower means to achieve better financial & social opportunities, it is appropriate to look at access to Higher Education when looking at economic inequality.

The Public Radio program On Point examines the issue of how Higher Education and economic class are connected. The program also looks at the difficulties that poorer students face in terms of navigating the world of Higher Education, particularly the world of top ranked schools. The program hints at an economic class warfare taking place within the world of Higher Education.

One guest- Walter Benn Michaels- suggests that the problem of Colleges and economic opportunity is so bad that a broader solution should be found that could help even the playing field for all. The current appoach of using race to help determine College admission is too small of an approach. Diversity/inclusion based more on economics rather than race might be more effective in breaking down economic class barriers, and could help more poor students (large numbers of African Americans included). I agree with the idea of economic need being as big of a consideration (or an even more important factor altogether) than race when determining who gets into the nations top schools. Of course, ability and hard work should always be a part of the process of determining who gets in (although i'm not a fan of standardized test scores as a main tool for this decision because these tests tend to favor those who are White and among the Upper Middle Class and wealthy Classes).

This more "economic need" based admissions approach would also help to kill the often false assumption that many African Americans who are in top schools are simply Affirmative Action choices. This myth needs to die once and for "economic need" approach to diversity could help to accomplish this while creating more access to a wider range of students at the same time. I am not suggesting that race could never be a factor, but it should not be the only factor or the main factor for school admissions. The race approach allows schools to simply grab tokens and engage in window dressing to give the appearance of diversity, when it is more important to deal with underlying economic disparities that often hinder students.


· Sam Dillon, a National Education Correspondent for The New York Times
· Walter Benn Michaels, Professor of English at University of Illinois at Chicago and author of "The Trouble with Diversity: How we Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality"
· Anthony Marx, President of Amherst College
· Walter Allen, Professor of Education at UCLA

Listen To Program

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. I am a new college student, and i am going to a community college. Before i came to this school, i had it set in my mind to go somewhere a university that was well known because i thought only low-life people that are not very smart go to community colleges. I had just picked up that impression from those around me that thought the same. However, though my grades and extracarricular activities are enough to be accepted into a nice university because of financial reasons i can not attend universities i thought to be better. Now i never thought of going to Princeton, because i assume as you say that only, rich or really super intelligent students go there. therefore i believe people do have it set in their minds that schools such as Harvard are intended for better people other than themselves who will always climb higher than them. I also definitely beleive schools should go strictly on income and not race. a white american can be less financially stable than an american of a different ethnicity. It IS possible!!