Poor Kids Can’t Get Into Ivy League Schools? Get Outta Here!

Earlier this week The New York Times did something today that you don’t often see: An Op-Ed piece agreeing with Pat Buchanan.

Writing about underserved white kids in ivy league schools columnist Ross Douthat points out that, SURPRISE!, poor people have a hard time getting in to Ivy League schools. And it’s apparently even worse when those poor people are white. The crux of the argument is quoted below

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

Ok so that is less of a surprise. But what remains surprising is why we still judge the quality of our admissions processes as a whole by who is getting in to Ivy League schools. Rich people still have no trouble getting in. Underserved minorities have benefitted from significant efforts to open more educational doors to those who are more likely to have not come from wealthy backgrounds. But to say now that the fact that working class white kids are not being given the same opportunities to attend Ivy League schools presupposes one major argument:

That it should be cheaper and easier to attend HARVARD.

This is where Douthat’s analysis starts to go a little off the rails. Here is his response to the aforementioned study

This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike.

Right, THAT’S why there are so many “liberal elites” in our universities! Poorer, conservative kids want to be college professors, charity workers, community organizers and performing artists but are not given the chance to do so. Quick, someone alert David Horowitz!

I think what is really at play here is a bunch of people complaining about having to go to a safety school.

Newsflash: Not everyone gets to go to private school!

Second Newsflash: those aren’t the only good schools in the country!

Sure, it is probably true that due to increased focus on expanding access to America’s most elite universites some people are feeling left out of the conversation. But why do we still insist on judging the relative health of our access to higher education on how many white people are being excluded from Ivy Leagues on the (false) premise that those spots are now going to minorities who weren’t as deserving? Why does that have to be the argument? Why do you HAVE to go to Harvard? Shit, I went to community college for 2 years out of high school and, last I checked, am currently working on a PhD from the University of Texas, regarded as a “public Ivy.” Which means that I am receiving largely the same education as my friends at Columbia for a lot less of the cost. Also, did you know that there are schools like this all over the country, not just in New England? I know, I was shocked too. We never really mention these things when highlighting the elite status of America’s universities.

Am I extremely lucky to even be in my position? Duh! But as someone who was made to feel less than adequate by my fellow AP classmates in highschool because I couldn’t afford to go to UCLA I don’t really think my white working class parents have hindered my educational success. Though I imagine constantly whining about not getting in to Harvard might.

Bottom line: access to colleges and universities should be made available to all who want the opportunity. But that opportunity does not reside squarely on the shoulders of Harvard administrators. Besides all those movies about Ivy League schools are filmed at UCLA anyway.


About Joe Faina

Rhetoric & Media Professor, Writer, Humorist

Posted on 07/21/2010, in Academia, Education, Government. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The lower class white conservative kid doesn’t wan’t to become any of those things. There is by no means a higher number of MAJORITIES ( I say that because whites are the minority have always been) in ivy league schools. True enough affirmative action lets people of the 99% in, but the majority in ivy league schools still remain the dumbest rich kids in america. They are kids whose parents paid for their grades. The scary thing about it is, these kids are the future leaders of our country (no wonder the economy is in the toilet). If they focus more on grades than wallet sizes or (I agree) ethnicity, Everyone would benefit on a very large scale.

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