Poor kids at rich colleges

It turns out that most top colleges are not doing a very good job of enrolling poor students (“Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges”). Unfortunately, this comes comes to no surprise to someone who has close connections to several top American institutions. Still, there are some bright points. The article in the Times relies on a paper by Cappy Hill, the president of Vassar (my alma mater). I don’t know if Vassar deserves the pat on the back that this article gives it, but it’s heartening to see that the issue is something that my undergrad college cares about.

Every time the issue of economic diversity in higher ed comes up, I’m reminded of a very thoughtful piece from last year about the myriad ways that poor and rural students are funneled into less prestigious colleges (“The Ivy League Was Another Planet“). Those who grow up in well-connected families, or from environments where everyone goes to elite institutions, often overlook how many small boosts they received as they were growing up: all the various tips and examples they received, and all the ways that the risks were removed from their academic career.

It also brings to mind an event where I heard then-mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro speak about affirmative action. Apparently (I’d never heard about it), he had been attacked for admitting that affirmative action may have helped him get into Stanford. Critics argued that he was less qualified as a politician because of it. What they failed to mention, he said at this event, was the rest of his point. Although his SATs had been lower than the median going into Stanford, his LSATs were well above the median for all of the Ivy League law schools.

It’s not easy, but colleges that really value diversity need to do more than simply open the door to disadvantaged students; they need to reach out to them and provide the resources that privileged students receive through their background and connections.

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