A blunt book about inequality in admissions at elite colleges.
After four decades of affirmative action and much official rhetoric about making higher education available to all qualified students, the nation’s most selective colleges and universities remain “bastions of privilege,” writes Schmidt, deputy editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Each year, tens of thousands of excellent applicants are turned down by Yale, Harvard and other top schools to make way for the wealthy and well connected. As a result, a rich kid has about 25 times as much chance as a poor one of enrolling at one of 160 selective colleges. All of this, the author contends, contradicts the 2003 Supreme Court decision upholding affirmative action at the University of Michigan, which said colleges must be “visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.” Much of Schmidt’s book recounts the history of college admissions from the 1900s, when virtually any graduate of feeder boarding schools could enter Harvard and Yale. While societal changes such as standardized tests, the G.I. Bill, 1960s social unrest and affirmative action transformed higher education and weakened the hold of the wealthy, working class and poor students are still underrepresented at top schools. The author draws on studies and his own reporting to show how affirmative action has played out in recent years. Economic class continues to shape children’s fates, he argues; poor kids grow up in segregated neighborhoods with inadequate schools, while wealthy whites enjoy outstanding schooling, special preparation for standardized tests and preferential college admission. All the while, colleges try to project a diverse image. They also capitalize on society’s diversity-consciousness by joining with corporations (in return for major financial support) to recruit minority students in package deals under which the students then go to work for the same companies upon graduation.
Offers a solid overview and a forceful reminder that money still trumps merit on the most prestigious campuses.