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View Diary: The Myth of the Meritocracy: Brilliant But Poor Kids Are Not Even APPLYING To Top Colleges (223 comments)

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  •  This is a lower-priority issue, frankly. (7+ / 0-)

    If we're interested in intergenerational social mobility, the key thing is for people whose parents didn't go to college to go to college, especially four-year college.  Whether they go to Harvard or Rutgers or Southern Connecticut is, in my opinion, more of institutional interest to those schools than it is to society.  Harvard only collects students from under-resourced high schools as trophies and they only need a certain number of trophies.  If a lot more such students applied, a lot more would be rejected since Harvard isn't going to displace anyone from its favored categories.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 07:44:25 AM PDT

    •  I have to respectfully disagree, Rich. (9+ / 0-)

      The studies show that going to a top college means making a lot more money and having a lot more power. Therefore, this issue shows that low-income kids are going to stay lower income and not rise to high levels of power. If they were able to do that, income inequality might well be reduced strongly. The point is to get Harvard to do what you are saying they won't do. They need to displace the wealthy, who are overrepresented. This is a high-priority issue. Even though we disagree, I'm very glad you commented. Good to see you as always.

      •  The particular thing we need to look at... (4+ / 0-)

        ...and I don't believe the NBER and other studies have done that, is whether attending a top college is in itself the path to better outcomes, or whether the socioeconomic heft that gets students into those colleges in the first place is what does it.  What is the outcome of poor students at Harvard (etc.), vs. better-off students and vs. poor students who go to their flagship state university?  Until we know that, I'm hung up on the trophy thing: elite institutions seem to want only enough poor students to bolster their (patently absurd) claim to be meritocratic bulwarks of a democratic society.

        The other sense in which I'm reluctant to highlight this issue is that it sacrifices the many for the few--if we spend our marginal unit of time and indignation on improving the quality of our public universities, or just getting them back to what they were in the 1970s, we wouldn't lament that smart students end up there.  We'd be happy about it.

        You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

        by Rich in PA on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 08:06:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It also means having a network (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe, Ian Reifowitz, Caj

        of connections that can propel you to places someone who went to Southern Connecticut will never have. Look at all the comedians and comic writers the Harvard Lampoon has produced. There are probably loads of funny, talented people elsewhere who didn't have the same "in."

        Jon Husted is a dick.

        by anastasia p on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 09:29:57 AM PDT

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      •  Depends on what you want to do (4+ / 0-)

        I'm 48 and a senior in college and certainly wasn't going to go to Harvard in any case at my age :), but, more importantly, I went back to college to become a teacher. Unless they give you a completely loan-free full ride, Harvard would be a stupid place to go to enter a profession where you're going to be chronically underpaid :). Local State School is fine for that.

        It really does depend, and kids don't often think enough about that. My oldest, a high school junior, wants to be a writer. Now, she is going to apply to Emerson, one of the better creative writing colleges around here. But she's also applying to the state liberal arts college, which also has a fine creative writing department. 50K a year versus 20. Emerson will have to completely overwhelm her with aid.

        Now, when my youngest, who wants to be a vet, starts looking in five years or so, we'll probably have to look at something more competitive. (She's a better student than her sister, so that will help.) Vet school will value good grades at Competitive University higher than those at Local State U. But for a writer? That's different.

        "Maybe: it's a vicious little word that could slay me"--Sara Bareilles

        by ChurchofBruce on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 12:26:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cassandra Waites
        The studies show that going to a top college means making a lot more money and having a lot more power.
        ...and oftentimes, having a lot more debt and/or spending a lot more money.

        A "top" college education isn't guaranteed to improve one's situation better than a median-priced state school.  The former will open a lot of doors, but if those doors don't pay back the cost difference quickly, you can be worse off.

        Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

        by Caj on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 12:56:32 PM PDT

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    •  The power of networking (7+ / 0-)

      at an elite school can dramatically increase your earning power and opportunities, especially in certain locations and industries.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 08:41:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Unfortunately... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz

        ...it's hard to quantify how much that extra power is worth, relative to the difference in tuition cost.

        Indeed, it's not even easy to quantify tuition cost, when private schools have absurd sticker prices but discounted tuition with different financial aid instruments.

        Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

        by Caj on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 12:57:49 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Absolutely (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cassandra Waites, Ian Reifowitz

          In my case, elite school had more access to financial aid, and it cost me less than UC would have. It's partly why it's important for low income kids to go ahead and apply to some of the high endowment private schools.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 01:09:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Agreed. (0+ / 0-)

            It's also important, however, to challenge this other "myth of meritocracy":  that more expensive and more "elite" is better.

            A Princeton or Columbia degree is valuable because (a) brand name recognition, (b) connections, and (c) it's proof that you met high admissions standards (although Princeton has an entrenched legacy system, so it could just mean you're born into the right family.)

            A Princeton or Columbia degree does not mean you got a better education---they don't have magic IQ juice in the water supply there, nor do they have a special version of Newton's laws for rich people.  I taught precepts and graded homework for NIU students and Princeton students, and I...wouldn't say you missed anything by not going to Princeton.

            So while I agree that we should encourage students to aim "high," they need to understand that "high" isn't really a better education so much as a designer label.  This is an important point to emphasize because in case students do get admitted but don't get a major price discount.  In that case you don't want someone taking out an unwise amount of debt out of fear of missing an opportunity.  Nor do you want NIU students to think that they missed a boat by not going to Northwestern.

            Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

            by Caj on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 05:45:46 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It often means (0+ / 0-)

              taking the course from the author of the textbook.

              For a serious student, that's priceless.

              Too late for the simple life, too early for android love slaves - Savio

              by Clem Yeobright on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 06:02:29 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Meh. (0+ / 0-)

                I've taken several courses taught by the author of the textbook, and that isn't exclusive to the ivy league.  I think I took more of those at NIU than I did at Princeton.  Lots of people in lots of places write excellent and important textbooks.

                Besides which, it's not really all that priceless to take a class from the textbook author.  If a textbook is worth anything, then you don't need the author to help you read it---and you want some insight from the author, you don't need to enroll in his or her university to ask a question.

                Taking jokes seriously is the exact mirror activity of laughing if someone says they have cancer. --jbou

                by Caj on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 10:01:14 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  so (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ian Reifowitz

        fixing that should be our priority.

        Your end of the Constitution is sinking.

        by happymisanthropy on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 01:07:37 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'm with Rich in this matter (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      terrypinder, Caj, happymisanthropy

      But I come from it in another direction.  I truly believe that research universities, be they land grant or private Ivies, do a spotty job of educating undergraduates.  Fine teaching is at the very bottom of their tenure track decisions.  

      If you're an Engineering major, you will land in English for non majors should you wish to study Literature...and you'll have the same problem in the Physics dept. if you wish to study Literature.  You likely will end up as a fine writer devoid of a educated background in science, or a great engineer with a poverty of knowledge of English literature. The classes are way too large to allow students to have any real connection to professors.

      The behemoths are fine for masters, phDs, or post doc work.

      Newt 2012. Sociopath, adulterer, hypocrite, Republican.

      by tikkun on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 09:01:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Could it be worse than you describe even? (3+ / 0-)

        My son took his B.A. in Philosophy at Harvard in the 90s and experienced the classic Liberal Arts education as I had in the 60s.  To be honest, there was never a doubt while my sons were growing up - the other took his degree at St. John's in Annapolis - that they would get a real liberal undergraduate education; it was just assumed and I can't even remember discussing it.

        BUT: In the 60s I had friends who majored in English and History and Philosophy who went straight to medical school; for my son in the 90s, he ended up having to do a fifth year to complete the science courses needed to apply to a top medical school.

        AND: From what I hear, it's no longer possible to get into med school without a science major and degree. Is that true?

        [Just as an aside, it makes me want to cry when I hear of a niece or nephew getting an undergraduate degree in 'Business'. Business used to be a graduate program only, an alternative to medicine, law, and divinity.]

        Too late for the simple life, too early for android love slaves - Savio

        by Clem Yeobright on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 10:25:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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