Universities And Inequality

Posted by | May 25, 2011 22:49 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

David Leonhardt has a superb column today on the efforts by the President of Amherst University (Anthony Marx, pictured) to ensure greater economic diversity at his elite college.  And it is indeed an uphill battle.

When we spoke recently, he mentioned a Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges. As entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution. Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students.

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

We like to think we are a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top.  But the cream has to start pretty close to the top if it really wants to make the trip.  Being able to afford elite high schools (and elementary schools and believe it or not preschools), the best test prep services, and the experiences that make for a fantastic admissions essay is something that is reserved for those whose parents are extremely wealthy to start out with.  Colleges can’t fix all these problems but Marx’s efforts (and yes I realize the irony of his last name), at Amherst show that there are steps that can be taken.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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