Solving the smugness problem

Elite colleges can solve the smugness problem by admitting community college transfers.

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Comments

  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I know that at least some elite colleges do admit transfers. UCLA admits hundreds — maybe thousands. Wesleyan admitted at least 4 while I was there, that I know of.

    So the problem might not be as bad as one might think.

    Nevertheless, when you’re talking about elite institutions, the graduation rates are practically trivial: almost everyone there graduates. That’s not where you’re going to see the difference between CC transfers and the elite college’s “homegrown” frosh. And in any case, this “research” necessarily is looking at the population of transfer students who are accepted by those colleges under the current regime.

    The difference will show up (if at all) not in graduation rates, but in the general academic quality of the students. Community college instruction varies widely, and there is a distinct risk that a transfer student admitted on the basis of, say, GPA and two-year old SAT scores is going to be at a disadvantage when compared to students who have already had two years of instruction at the elite institution.

    Now, maybe you think that the risk is minimal. I know for certain that two of the four best students I’ve had at UCLA were transfers from Community College. In one case, the student was actually accepted as a Frosh, but decided to save some money. In the other, the student wasn’t quite ready for UCLA as a Frosh, but cleaned up some life problems in the intervening two years. But they were both fantastic, accomplished, and brilliant students.

    But they were admitted because they were accomplished and brilliant students. Ascertaining the quality of students is what admissions offices are designed to do, and I’m inclined to think that if they feel like they’ve got a good handle on what makes for a good transfer for their schools, and what doesn’t, that we should respect their decisions.

    Asking them to admit 1%, or even .5%, of their junior classes as CC transfers is like asking them to admit a certain percentage of ethnic minorities: to the degree that you let the one factor control, you’re necessarily ignoring or at least decreasing the influence of the other factors such as academic strength and quality.

    As for the smugness… yes, it’s annoying. But it stems just as much from our national obsession with college and credentialism as it does with the insularity of the elite campuses. If we didn’t think that where you went to college defined your value as a person, we’d have a lot less of the superiority that goes with going to Harvard.

  2. dangermom says:

    I suppose she was talking about the Ivy League schools? Certainly Berkeley accepted transfers when I went there. I thought it was a great system; as long as you got a certain GPA from selected CCs, you could transfer into Cal as a junior. I should think that there would be a plentiful supply of such students; Harvard could have a list of approved CCs too.

  3. There’s an assumption that the smugness common to elite colleges is a problem. I very much doubt that it’s seen as a problem by those who are tied to those colleges either by employment or by graduation.

    That snootiness is part of the payoff for going to or being associated with an elite college. The phony egalitarianism that the self-proclaimed moral exemplars of society evince makes a deliberate and public display of snootiness tut-tuttingly unacceptable but the very human reflex to assert dominance doesn’t go away just because it’s politically incorrect to be boorishly obvious about it.

    I think the solution’s already evident.

    The relentless force of free enterprise is making demands on elite schools to justify their costs. One of those justifications is just that snootiness. But as economic value becomes more important the value of ostentatious displays of wealth, like a Rolex, a Rolls or a Harvard degree becomes less important. A ten dollar digital watch performs, with roughly equal facility, the function of telling the time as an $80,000 Piaget. From a utilitarian point of view the Piaget offers little to recommend it over the $10 plastic digital watch.

    More subtly, a society dominated by voluntary exchanges of considerations of value, i.e. free enterprise, is inherently inclined towards egalitarianism since voluntary exchanges of value are, by their nature, between equals. The value of displays of dominance, of ostentatious displays of wealth, becomes less meaningful as society is increasingly dominated by voluntary exchange. Those displays are displays of wealth, not dominance, inasmuch as a society based on free enterprise becomes, necessarily, intolerant of the primary benefit of social dominance, the power to coerce. So if Bill Gates covets my Superman 1 all he can do is offer to buy it from me at my price. He doesn’t have recourse to Microsoft Storm Troopers to seize the comic book by force.