Elite colleges should encourage applicants to care more about the common good than their personal achievement, advises Turning the Tide, report from Harvard’s Making Caring Common project.
Many praised the report, but Robert Pondiscio, writing in U.S. News, is dubious. He wonders why prioritizing the public good is only for teenagers, not for the elite colleges they aspire to attend.
By my calculation, the schools that employ the top administrators who have endorsed “Turning the Tide” have amassed combined endowments of approximately $225 billion. I need to be convinced that these institutions are maximizing the public benefit of those funds, which grow tax-free, before I’m asked to accept that careerist kids and ambitious parents pose a significant challenge to society.
Harvard’s endowment is $35 billion. Spending less than 5 percent would provide a full scholarship for every undergraduate, estimates Pondiscio.
A very small subset of U.S. high school students are competing for slots at elite colleges, writes Pondiscio. Some are “overloading on Advanced Placement courses they’re not interested in and larding up on extracurriculars they don’t care about, merely to impress the admissions office at Brown.”
Rather than the report’s recommendations — discouraging applicants from taking SATs more than twice or submitting “overcoached” applications — he suggests an admissions lottery to choose among qualified applicants.
The elite colleges already provide generous scholarships to their students, few of whom come from low-income or working-class families. I think the only thing that will ease competition — a little — is to create more seats for undergrads as Stanford and Yale are doing.