by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
One suspects George “College is oversold” Leef will find some interest in Fareed Zakaria‘s latest TIME column, which targets the prevalent practice among American universities of admitting less-than-stellar students just because their higher tuition (and wealthy families) can help pay the schools’ bills.
State universities–once the highways of advancement for the middle class–have been utterly transformed under the pressure of rising costs and falling government support. A new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, shows how some state schools have established a “party pathway,” admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but are middling students. These cash cows are given special attention through easy majors, lax grading, social opportunities and luxurious dorms. That’s bad for the bright low-income students, who are on what the book’s authors, Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton, call the mobility pathway. They are neglected and burdened by college debt and fail in significant numbers.
The Country’s best colleges and universities do admit lower-income students. But the competition has become so intense and the percentage admitted so small that the whole process seems arbitrary. When you throw in special preferences for various categories–legacies, underrepresented minorities and athletes–it also looks less merit-based than it pretends to be. In an essay in the American Conservative, Ron Unz uses a mountain of data to charge that America’s top colleges and universities have over the past two decades maintained a quota–an upper limit–of about 16.5% for Asian Americans, despite their exploding applicant numbers and high achievements.