How the elite buy their kids in

Money matters in college admissions, writes TaxProf, who’s been touring colleges with his daughter.  He cites Daniel Golden’s  The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, which argues that preferences for affluent whites are more significant at highly selective colleges than minority preferences.

Preferences also benefit children from well-connected and famous families, legacies, faculty children and “athletes in such patrician sports as rowing, horseback riding, fencing and even polo,” notes the Washington Post review.

Wealthy parents don’t need to be donors: They’re courted as “development cases,” even at endowment-rich Harvard. Duke “embarked on a systematic strategy of raising its endowment by seeking out wealthy applicants,” Golden asserts, estimating that Duke admitted 100 development applicants each year in the late 1990s who otherwise would have been rejected.

Also enjoying substantial preference at elite colleges, both public and private, are varsity athletes. In a fascinating case study of women’s sports at the University of Virginia, Golden shows how the effort to comply with Title IX, a gender equity law that has the praiseworthy goal of ensuring equality between female and male athletes, has had the unintended effect of giving an admissions edge to female athletes who play upper-class sports. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of college women nationwide in rowing, a sport highly concentrated in private schools and affluent suburbs, rose from 1,555 to 6,690; more recently, the number of female varsity horseback riders increased from 633 to 1,175 between 1998 and 2002. The net effect of the rise of these overwhelmingly patrician sports, Golden argues, has been to further advantage already advantaged women.

If elite universities ended affirmative action for the privileged, it would open up  25 percent of the places in the freshman class, Golden estimates. Some Asian immigrant striver would have a shot at Harvard, if Al Gore’s son (one of his examples) had to compete on academic merits.

Golden calls for ending preferences for legacies, faculty children and athletes in “upper-class” sports. Jerome Karabel, the Post reviewer, writes:

Equally important is his suggestion that a firewall be constructed between the admissions office and the development office — a change of no small moment in institutions where the link between the two now looks more like an autobahn.

“Absent a more profound change in the prevailing definition of merit,” fewer preferences for the rich by elite colleges will benefit well-educated “children of the upper-middle class,” Karabel predicts. Few low-income students are close to qualifying.

I worry more about the college prospects of low-income and working-class students. They don’t need to get into Harvard or Yale or Duke to be successful, but far too many are graduated from high school without the skills to earn a degree at Affordable State University — or even a vocational certificate at Local Community College.

Almost-Ivy students will go to slightly less elite colleges and universities,where they’ll be successful, if they continue to work hard.  Wealthy slackers will remain slackers.

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