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.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. While it would be nice to see this elite “handout” ended, I’m far more concerned about the tendency of lower-income students impoverishing themselves to attend colleges they aren’t well prepared for. They rack up substantial student loans, while not managing to get beyond the remedial-level classes. I call it “high school at college rates”.

  2. AnonymousfrustratedLawyer says:

    Wouldn’t our society be better off as a whole, if that studious Indian kid went to Harvard and the wealthy slacker went to some lower tier private snob/aristocracy school?

    This all assumes that the education at the elite schools is actually different. Sitting in big law now next to dartmouth and Princeton grads, I’m pretty sure the only thing those clowns bring to the firm is connections made to other frat bros now at wall street. You really can’t teach keg stands

  3. superdestroyer says:

    AnonymousfrustratedLawyer,

    How about people just acknowledge that there are many people at public universities who are smarter than many of the people at placed like Duke or Harvard. The biggest problem is that people keep acting on the understated assumption that the dumbest person at Harvard, Duke, Brown is smarter and more capable than the smarter, sharpest person at any public university.

  4. LOL. My horse habit keeps me damn poor.

  5. Now THIS is good. It’s funny because I was recently at a college fair when someone asked, “Why are you (the college) raising tuition with this economy?” The admissions officer replied, “Because we need to keep up with our neighboring competitors.” So in other words, the more students pay, the “better” the college is? I wasn’t sure what they meant until I started to think about some of the very things you’re writing about here. Good stuff.

  6. George Larson says:

    It seems strange the elite schools with their left wing staffs and immense endowments charge their students whatever the market allows. Maybe they are not really left wing institutions?

    AnonymousfrustratedLawyer,

    Yes, connections are really that important. I did not undertstand that as a young man with no connections. Now I am an old man with no connections.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    It seems strange the elite schools with their left wing staffs and immense endowments charge their students whatever the market allows. Maybe they are not really left wing institutions?

    But then they turn around an give a price break to poorer students. Transferring money from the rich(er) to the poor(er) is not inconsistent with a left wing political orientation. True, the school does wind up with a lot of wealth (note Harvard’s endowment fund, for example), but they spend it on good things …

    -Mark Roulo

  8. 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.

    1) Low income (not working class) students’ high school issues are wholly irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is equitable distribution of private university prestige. Why even bring it up?

    2) Since you did bring it up, you really don’t have any evidence that making a million more low income kids slightly more literate is more valuable to society than ensuring that our best kids have access to the prestige and support of our best schools.

    3) It gets incredibly irritating when people dismiss injustice to upper income kids who parents worked hard on their behalf, only to get screwed by both public universities (who are eager to give diplomas to illiterate URMs) and private (eager for the cash of the wealthy). We spend a metric ton of money on the poor, and there’s not much evidence that tons more money will increase results all that dramatically. In the meantime, maybe spare a tiny bit of outrage for kids who worked hard, are incredibly talented, but just don’t have an income level that attracts your sympathy.

  9. Homeschooling Granny says:

    “Golden calls for ending preferences for legacies, faculty children and athletes in ‘upper-class’ sports.”

    Is this do-able, given the realities of human nature? People will seek to give their kids the best start possible and use the resources they have to do so. Can this be done or will the wealthy just find another way ’round?

  10. SuperSub says:

    This is just another semi-Marxist attempt to cause commotion.

    For every legacy or polo player with plenty of money there are rescued inner-city youths or basketball players who get a free or near-free ride.

    I went to Cornell, which luckily has a few state-subsidized colleges for NY residents (otherwise I wouldn’t have gone). Many of my TA’s who were attending Cornell for graduate studies did not attend Harvard or Yale but instead went to SUNY schools or to other public universities. While the public perception is that the smartest of the smart go to Harvard and the like, those in academia realize that is not the case.

  11. J.D. Salinger says:

    It gets incredibly irritating when people dismiss injustice to upper income kids who parents worked hard on their behalf, only to get screwed by both public universities (who are eager to give diplomas to illiterate URMs) and private (eager for the cash of the wealthy). We spend a metric ton of money on the poor, and there’s not much evidence that tons more money will increase results all that dramatically. In the meantime, maybe spare a tiny bit of outrage for kids who worked hard, are incredibly talented, but just don’t have an income level that attracts your sympathy.

    It also gets incredible irritating to read your whining and bitchy complaints about anything that goes against what you believe. There are kids whose parents work hard on their behalf who don’t deserve to get in. That doesn’t bother you. And how do you know Joanne isn’t including the kids who worked hard and are incredibly talented?

  12. Only “upper class” sports? Really?

  13. There are kids whose parents work hard on their behalf who don’t deserve to get in. That doesn’t bother you.

    You apparently can’t read. I’ll shorten the response. Find a five year old who can translate for you.

    Joanne was dismissing the injustice she was reporting on, saying that oh, well, it’s unfair to upper/middle income kids, but they’ll go to a state school and do fine.

    I was disputing her take, saying that no, it’s annoying and unfair that rich kids who don’t deserve it are getting into the best schools, while hardworking bright kids of the next income levels down are not getting a fair comparison.

  14. georgelarson says:

    Mark Roulo
    Doesn’t the Ivy League have a scholarship cartel so they do not engage in a bidding war to obtain the best low income students?

  15. Mark Roulo says:

    “Doesn’t the Ivy League have a scholarship cartel so they do not engage in a bidding war to obtain the best low income students?”

    I don’t know, but I don’t see how that could work.

    I believe that below something like $60K/year, Harvard waives the tuition. Since I don’t expect schools like Harvard and Yale to actually *pay* students to attend, I don’t see much of a cartel in the competition for low income students.

    The Ivy’s (and MIT, I think) *did* get nailed some years ago by the DoJ for having a cartel agreement to not compete on tuition/scholarship for *TALENTED* students. Perhaps this is what you were remembering?

    -Mark Roulo

  16. georgelarson says:

    Thank you Mark Roullo, That must have been it.

  17. There’s a big difference between “development” admits and regular vanilla legacies. Mr. Goldman tars both with the same brush but the overwhelming majority of legacies at the top schools have similar credentials to non-legacy students. At Harvard, the median SAT for legacy admits is only 2 pts. lower than that of non-legacies.

    And let’s be realistic that these legacy slots are probably not coming at the expense of poor kids but at the expense of other affluent suburban kids. Doing away with legacy policies would just mean that banker A’s son would no longer have an edge over banker B’s son because A graduated from Harvard while B attended Yale.

    Now the “development” admits, THAT is truly a case of “buying one’s way in”. By far and away the dumbest kid I ever met at college had his father on the board of trustees and his last name on one of the campus buildings…

  18. Oh, and FWIW, I was not a legacy at the college I ended up attending. So the fact that I got into my dad’s Ivy alma mater as a legacy admit did not mean I was unqualified.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    My father graduated from Infantry OCS in 1943.
    I was graduated from Infantry OCS in 1969.
    Never knew I was legacy admit. That must have been what Hoyt Bailey was laughing about.
    And, as far as I know, he didn’t send any money to the alumni fund.
    If I recall the original point, it included the issue that grads from the Ivies–who are said to have invented grade inflation–get far more public deference than their actual qualities and later achievements merit.
    As an equal opportunity snark, both Bush and Obama have Ivy degrees.

  20. Rowing has been pushed because of its high numbers; I’ve read that a team has 60-80 kids. What I find unacceptable is offering scholarships to kids who have never lifted an oar, which was happening in the late 90s (don’t know if it’s still happening); they were recruiting swimmers because they already had both the strength and the aerobic conditioning. At the time the U of Minnesota established their team, I was told that there were no HS-level crew teams, public or private, in the entire state. At the same time, almost every HS in the state had boys’ soccer teams but no state college/university in the state had a men’s team. That’s just plain wrong.

    I’m pretty sure that minority kids (not Asian, of course) with good SATs can go anywhere and get scholarships. I seem to remember reading that there were so few with SATs over 1200 that Ivies and other elite private schools were fighting over them. They are likely to have well-educated parents and live in affluent suburbs; my kids went to school with a lot of them. It was openly acknowledged that they would be accepted with lower test scores and grades than white or Asian kids; they didn’t have to take the same number of APs and many didn’t. However, these kids can do the work at elite schools; there are many who are accepted at schools where they can’t function on the same level as the non-URMs. They are likely to end up in the various “studies” departments.

  21. Richard Aubrey says:

    momof4
    Rowing is cheap. When my daughter went to college, they tried to recruit her for crew, in order to punch up the numbers for Title IX. She had no experience and had to have the thing explained to her. All she had going for her was that she was short.
    Soccer’s cheap,too, compared to say, hockey.

  22. Rowing is relatively cheap if you have the water. At least, U of MN had that, unlike one of the (state, I think) universities in the Southwest, which apparently flooded a 2-mile stretch of dry riverbed.

    I also find it really strange that Karabel apparently laments that, even without legacies/athletes, the current definition of merit would advantage the well-educated upper-middle-class kids because few low-income kids would qualify. If any kid can’t qualify academically, why should they expect to go to an elite college? or any college?

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