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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Focus on who gets out of poverty, not who gets into Harvard

Obsessing over who gets into elite colleges and universities is an odd preoccupation for progressives, argues Francisco Toro on Persuasion. They're supposed to care about the "masses," not fight for admission to the ruling class.

If you look at 1,000 high school graduates, 380, "overwhelmingly poorer and disproportionately black, Latino, and male," will go directly to the workforce, he writes. Another 190 will enroll in a two-year college, but only 55 of them will complete a two-year degree or any other credential within six years. Most of these young people, who make up more than half our starting 1,000, will struggle to earn a living.

Another 430 will enroll in a four-year college or university: A majority will go to one that admits most or all applicants, Toro writes. The elite universities, the ones that lead to elite jobs and entry in the ruling class, enroll about 18 students, according to Pew.

"The people who run the elite media, advocacy, and educational institutions that dominate civil discourse are overwhelmingly graduates of highly selective colleges themselves," and care very deeply about who gets in, writes Toro. "Highly selective universities are on average much more likely to use racial preferences in admissions."

However, the Supreme Court’s decision to ban racial preferences in college admissions is about the future of only 18 of those 1,000 graduates. It affects "a minuscule group of black and Latino high achievers," writes Toro. Without that boost, they may have to go to a somewhat less selective university.

If U.S. society was less unequal -- if it was easier for the graduates of state universities to compete for tob jobs -- the fight over college admissions would be less brutal, he concludes. He lives in Montreal, where bright students prefer McGill to less-prestigious Concordia -- but don't think it's a life-changing difference. "A Concordia degree doesn’t rule you out of elite jobs, nor does a McGill degree guarantee access to the best ones."

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