Higher-income education

Most students at elite colleges come from well-to-do families, notes USA Today.

At the nation’s 146 most selective colleges, only 3% of students come from the lowest socioeconomic quarter, it says; 74% come from the top quarter.

And the gap has widened: Wealthy kids are increasingly displacing middle-income students, according to a study of selective institutions by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

Recruiting low- and moderate-income students or offering more college aid won’t do much for income diversity. These kids don’t go to schools that prepare them for high-level college work.

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Comments

  1. The trend in US economics since 1960 has been to reward people with power and money based on education. (An uneducated person is less likely to succeed in business than they were in 1960, or even earn a livable wage.) These global institutions control billions on Wall Street and do attempt to expose the children of American aristocracy to the human aspect of ruling the rule. I suppose it’s better than than raising kids with a tutor and a whipping boy.
    From the aspect of exposure and networking, it is fair to say that these are worldwide vessels of political exchange. Children from countries all over the world become human to each other. They are amazing kids, too. But I don’t think it benefits the poor to attend these school.
    Poor kids are rejected socially, misunderstood and do not retain the pre-existant networks establish by wealthy aristocracy. While it may raise their prestige in the eyes of their own community it does not improve the community. The world from the corporate world is you succeed by killing yourself with hard work, or you have friends. Poor kids succeed by work, they are taught not to compete/oppress and network by bearing each other’s loads. Unfortunately even the rich kids at these schools never understand how the poor kids work.

  2. This sign-in system doesn’t like me. I hope this isn’t posted twice.

    Bluemount – You lost me.

    “Recruiting low- and moderate-income students or offering more college aid won’t do much for income diversity. These kids don’t go to schools that prepare them for high-level college work. ”

    Exactly! They can’t fix the problem at the college level. You have to start in Kindergarten and separate those willing to work from those who can’t or won’t. If you lump all ability kids together with social promotion you guarantee that no one will get a good education unless the parents make up the difference.

    I know that ability tracking is disliked by many, but that is what the affluent do when they move to better school districts or when they put their kids into private schools. It’s called choice. Poor and less affluent parents don’t get to choose. Without tracking or choice (full vouchers), there is no hope.

    There are also the problems of obscene college costs and the over-inflated demand for a college degree. How much more can college costs rise? I wrote a program once that would tell a parent how much they had to save per month/year to pay for college. It took into account all sorts of factors such as inflation, investment rate and time value of money, and it made sure that the investment account went down to zero when the last child graduated. It used a fancy, iterative solving technique. When I tried it out, I realized that the program was worthless. The simple answer was that you could never save enough money.

  3. The article suggests that tuition inflation has a lot to do with this. Assuming that money is indeed a major factor in this trend, I would suggest working on the distorted finances that create the situation where a top college can charge $30k a year to 18-year-olds. One can never completely eliminate the Bank of Daddy, but I’m sure many steps can be taken to fix this situation.

    The abundance of what amounts to 3rd party billing in the system can only encourage the kind of excess that has turned too many campuses into expensive resorts for rich kids.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    On the other hand, is being denied the opportunity to bask for 4 years at an expensive resort for rich kids, and having instead to go to a school that offers a perfectly sound education but has no snob appeal at cocktail parties in the Hamptons, really such a big blow to the life chances of a bright, ambitious kid?

  5. Exactly! They can’t fix the problem at the college level. You have to start in Kindergarten and separate those willing to work from those who can’t or won’t.

    Steve,
    Do you think it’s possible to fairly and accurately track kids beginning at five years of age?

  6. I don’t see it as a great loss. My alma mater, N.C. State University, had lots of great undergrads because none of us could afford to go to Harvard or MIT or our other wish-schools. Many of us were on merit scholarships. Others had to work jobs to pay for the school. We sure were prepared to go to college, and did very well for ourselves there. I got to take grad-level classes and got jobs that usually are given only to grad students (I was a TA for a semester of Calculus, and an RA for a physics professor for over a year).

    It’s more a blow to the “prestige schools” if it’s known that they’re not necessarily getting the smartest students, but smart students who are also rich. They could lose their “shine” (and reason for charging a premium) if it turns out that alot of the 2nd tier schools, which are more modestly priced, are producing excellent graduates of their own. More people might wonder what their extra $10K (or $20K… what the heck are the outrageous tuitions now?) a year gets them.

  7. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘It’s more a blow to the “prestige schools” if it’s known that they’re not necessarily getting the smartest students, but smart students who are also rich. ‘ …. ‘More people might wonder what their extra $10K (or $20K… what the heck are the outrageous tuitions now?) a year gets them.’

    Actually to a number of the students and the parents it’s the exclusiveness that’s the appeal. The bus stops at the end of my street and drops you at Boston College 10 min later. My neighbor’s daughter lives on campus. My wife’s cousin goes there and he’s a nice kid but no genius. It’s the Catholic County Club for these kids and you can’t buy that at UMass-Boston.

  8. Speaking of “not necessarily smart”, when I was in the academic world of math, I knew people who taught freshman calculus at Harvard. And I had experience with teaching calc at NYU and NC State. When conferring with my compatriots, it didn’t seem to me that the Harvard students were any more prepared for calculus than the NYU and NC State students. They had the same difficulties with algebra, geometry, and graphing a line without using a calculator.

    The real shame is that in these classes, at least half the class had calculus (and passed!) in high school. Luckily, college math depts are wise to the ways of high school math teachers, and require AP test results to place out of calculus (or our own placement exams).

    It doesn’t matter how rich your background. Somehow, many kids are given a pass – whether it’s low expectations because they’re poor, mediocre teachers in the public schools for the middle class, or teachers who don’t want to rock the boat because the students are all rich.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    This is about demographics and how universities use them to their advantage. I bet that the number of seats at those 146 elite universities has not grown any since 1960. Yet, the number of students applying keeps going up. That means that only the richest students, (those whose parents have the experience and funds to help the kid build a resume). Those are ones getting admitted. And if you want to know how the idiot children of the rich get admitted, just look at how the schools weight “leadership” and “community service.”

  10. Even if the number has grown, it is only valuable in a career if there is a relationship with the school(corporate or social). I studied some of the private k-12 schools in my area and found struggling kids did worse in the private schools (on scholarship) than they did in public schools.

  11. Chris C. wrote:
    “Do you think it’s possible to fairly and accurately track kids beginning at five years of age?”

    … It depends on what you call tracking. Public schools already track kids into lower and lower expectation groups when they use social promotion. Teachers spend too much time trying to keep the lowest ability kids up to some minimal level. This level has nothing to do with preparing the better kids for college. I’m not talking about tracking for gifted or talented students.

    As for starting in Kindergarten, this means setting high standards for all kids. If kids cannot meet grade-level expectations, they don’t move on to the next grade. This doesn’t mean a high-stakes test in 3rd or 10th grade, it means meeting expectations year-to-year. For those who don’t meet these expectations, then they need to repeat the grade or perhaps, optionally, move into a less difficult curriculum.

    I am all for optional (student and parent) selected tracking. If the student can meet the demands of the curriculum, then they get to stay. Unfortunately, most people see tracking as something that the school does to the student without his/her own input. Unfortunately also, most people don’t realize that public schools do exactly this right now – track all kids into one, low expectation track. Parents have no choice. Our superintendent says: “We won’t do pull-out.”

    Grouping all kids together in age-based tracks (rather than ability-based tracks) using social promotion is a philosophical decision that many people abhor. It condemns all kids into a single, low expectation track that does not properly prepare them for college. Even if high schools provide different tracks, it is often too late. I have seen K-8 curricula that have no relationship to college prep high school tracks. (Don’t high schools ever go back to the lower grades and make suggestions about curriculum?) Our K-8 schools act clueless when it comes to knowing how its students fare in high school. Most of the damage is done by high school. I have had parents tell me that you need to send your kids to private school for K-8 and then you can go back to a public high school if they have decent college prep or honors tracks.

    The affluent get to select their own educational philosophy, the poor get one imposed on them.

  12. When I was in college 30 years ago, Harvard had the best undergraduate math program in the country, and generally the best undergraduates in math, too. I don’t know if that’s still the case, but it was certainly true then. However, the difference wasn’t worth paying even twice as much to go to school there. I went to Ohio State at this time, and while they had a mediocre undergraduate math program (at least when compared to the top few schools), I got nearly as good a math education as my friends at Harvard — the disadvantage was that I was the only undergraduate in all but 2 of my classes (ones I took when I was a freshman and they were seniors), and to the best of my knowledge no other undergrad at OSU at that time made it to any of the top-ranked grad schools in math. Being from OSU hurt me when applying for graduate fellowships (I was told frankly by someone on the NSF fellowship committee that they never bothered to read my application, although I had no trouble getting the fellowship when I applied my first year at Stanford), but otherwise the disadvantages were all social.

    I think that where you go to school matters in some other fields. My in-laws that went to “famous” colleges developed social networks that were a big help in establishing their careers (in things like law), but I don’t believe that it matters much in terms of the actual education if you are sufficiently motivated. Perhaps for “above average” students (you know, one that gets A’s but is not really that smart) it might matter if they are pushed by their courses (in the same way that it matters more for such students that they go to a “demanding” high school), but for really good students any university with first-rate faculty will do (and the chance of getting to work with world-class people as an undergraduate is tiny even if your university has any).

  13. Steve LaBonne says:

    Another consideration is that, thanks to the decades-long glut of Ph.D.’s, second and third tier schools have much, much better faculties than they did 40 years ago. Some people who got tenure easily at big-name universities in the 60s wouldn’t come close to qualifying for tenure at many far less prestigious schools now- the standards for scholarly productivity have been raised that much. (The _quality_ of that production in some areas of the humanities may be open to question, but I speak primarily of the sciences because that’s what I know best.)