On “Levelling the Field”

Great and touching article in the Times over the weekend.

Check it out here.

He has many valuable suggestions, a few of which I will highlight here.

It is common to harbor fond feelings toward your alma mater. But to be a responsible, forward-looking member of your college’s extended community, look a little deeper. Make it your business to figure out exactly whom your college serves. What is the economic breakdown of the current student body? Some colleges trumpet data about underrepresented minorities and first-generation students. But many don’t. And either way, there are follow-up questions to ask. How has that mix changed over the past 10 years? What policies are in place to increase those numbers? You may not get a direct answer. No matter. When they call you as part of the annual fund-raising drive, press the issue.

This is harsh but necessary. Obviously I attended elite schools, and they might not like to see this, justified by higher-wealth alumni giving more so being selected for, in an endless loop. But if they truly care about moving the society forward, they should make access more even, and alumni, those with power, should push them to do so.

Legacy admission must end. By some counts, children of alumni, almost all of them from the top economic quartile, account for 10 percent to 25 percent of the students at the top 100 universities. In 2011, an analysis of 30 elite schools found that legacy candidates saw a 23 percentage point increase in their chances of getting in compared with otherwise similar candidates. Among the Harvard class of 2021, 29 percent had a parent, grandparent or close family relation who attended the school.

Being a legacy, and thus any child being a legacy, you want your child to have every advantage. But I also care about the issue. And I think more good would come out of relative equality.

And:

Colleges say they need legacy admissions to encourage donations. But a 2010 study by Chad Coffman, Tara O’Neil and Brian Starr looked at alumni donations at the top 100 universities and found no discernible impact of legacy admission on giving.

There’s your data.

Another suggestion:

To help students who come from the middle and working classes, cities and states should adopt models like the City University of New York’s ASAP program, which provides intensive advising, money for textbooks and even MetroCards to smooth a student’s pathway to his or her degree.

Schools tout college acceptance, but the numbers for persistence are much lower. Support is needed, and the question is only what sorts of support can be provided.

The big bomb:

This may seem counterintuitive, but please stop giving to your alma mater. Donors to top universities are getting hefty tax deductions to support a system that can seem calculated to ensure that the rich get richer. If you feel you must give, try earmarking your donation for financial aid for low-income, community college students who have applied to transfer to your alma mater.

Well then. I’ll leave that with you.