Movin’ on up

Eighty-four percent of Americans — and 93 percent of those in the bottom quintile — earn more than their parents in inflation-adjusted dollars, concludes a new Pew report, Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations.

Yet 43 percent of people who start in the bottom quintile end up there, notes Education Gadfly. Nearly three-quarters remain in the bottom 40 percent.

A black-white mobility achievement gap is present as well: Half of blacks who were raised on the wealth ladder’s bottom rung stay there as adults, compared to a third of whites. The “stickiness at the ends” phenomenon affects America’s wealthiest as well: Sixty-six percent of those with parents in the top quintile stayed among the elite (earning at least $164,000 a year). As Pew explains (and Charles Murray concurs), this “stickiness” is partially caused by marriage patterns. High earners are forming unions with others in their quintile, further bumping their family wealth and income.

For those raised at the bottom of the family income ladder, college provides a way up: Only 10 percent of college graduates — and 47 percent of those without a degree — end up at the bottom rung.

The tutored rich

After paying for very expensive private schools, wealthy New Yorkers pay subject-matter and SAT tutors to ensure their children can compete for Ivy League colleges, reports the New York Times.

One mother paid $38,800 for tuition at Riverdale Country School and another $35,000 for a tutor to help her son through a single class, Integrated Liberal Studies.

Last year, she said, her tutoring bills hit six figures, including year-round SAT preparation from Advantage Testing at $425 per 50 minutes; Spanish and math help from current and former private school teachers at $150 an hour; and sessions with Mr. Iyer for Riverdale’s equally notorious interdisciplinary course Constructing America, at $375 per 50 minutes.

More than half of the students at the city’s top-tier schools hire tutors, the Times estimates.

“It’s no longer O.K. to have one-on-one coaching for sailing but not academics,” says Arun Alagappan of Advantage Testing, whose 200 tutors bill $195 to $795 for 50 minutes.

More and more, parents are hiring tutors to turn B+ students into straight-A contenders for Ivy League spots.

Gone are the days of a student who was excellent at math and science just getting by in English and history; now, everyone is expected to be strong in everything (including fencing, chess, woodworking and violin).

I noticed this when my daughter was at Palo Alto High. The top students were expected to take AP classes in everything — though I don’t think any of them had  tutors. I wonder if the college craziness has escalated in the competitive public schools too.

Michael Ruse compares intensive tutoring to athletes bulking up on steroids.

In London, Gwyneth Paltrow and husband Chris Martin are advertising for a $100,000-a-year tutor for their children Moses, five, and Apple, seven, reports the Daily Mail. Slackers need not apply.

American Resident quotes the ad:

“The ideal candidate will have received a classical education, including Latin and Greek, and be familiar with such elements as the history of thought from a philosophical perspective. He or she should also be musically fluent and play at least one instrument well. In addition, language skills are essential and the Tutor should have fluent French and at least one other of Spanish, Italian, Mandarin or Japanese. The Tutor will also need to be fit and healthy, enjoy many sports and pastimes both indoors and out, including painting, art, or art history and drama, as well as sports such as chess, tennis, fencing or a martial art.” ….. when the tutor collects the boy from school, they might stop by an art gallery on the way home!”

Ex-Pat Tutor thinks it’s a bit too much to ask, even for $100,000.

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.