Another Non-Problem that Bothers Egalitarians

Today’s Inside Higher Ed has a story about a new study on students from low-income families and their college choices. The conclusion of the study is that while many of those students know how to prepare for college and “are making strides to improve their academic credentials,” few of them wind up at “top” colleges and universities. Most apply to and enroll at community colleges and noncompetitive four-year schools instead of elite institutions such as “a member of the Ivy League or a state flagship.”

No doubt that’s all true. I’m sure there are reasonably good students from poorer families in North Carolina who choose, say, N.C. Central instead of applying to Chapel Hill or Duke. Does it matter?

The story goes on to quote Prof. Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin, who finds this troubling. “Sociology completely predicts this. The powerful always find ways to preserve power,” she says.

What does power have to do with it? If that North Carolina student had gone to and graduated from UNC or Duke rather than NC Central, he wouldn’t have any more “power.” It’s not like being part of an aristocracy. Now, it’s true that the more prestigious college credential might help him get a better first job, but once you’re in the world of work, nobody cares about college pedigrees. They care about results. An entrepreneur who went to NC Central (or didn’t go to college at all, for that matter) might beat the stuffing out of the student with his prestige degree sitting in a cubicle at some big company or firm. Or the lawyer who went to NCCU law school might best opposing counsel from UNC or Duke.

Goldrick-Rab laments that the elite schools would rather have students from wealthier families, thus increasing the likelihood of future donations and that will “perpetuate the inequity among students.” I don’t applaud Harvard for its Scrooge McDuck attitude toward its finances, but that’s not an “inequity” toward students from poorer families. They can go elsewhere and succeed just as well in life.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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