Phi Beta Cons

Does higher education need to become class conscious?

Peter Sacks thinks so. He has a new book out entitled Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education. Inside Higher Ed has the story here.
Sacks’ earlier book Generation X Goes to College was a useful look at the extraordinary difficulties faced by professors when they confront classes where most of the students are disengaged from academics and are only there because they want a degree. (My friend Frank Stephenson of Berry College suggests calling them “tuitioners” rather than “students” since they study very little.) But his notion that “we can’t make progress as a nation” unless top universities expand their commitment to “diversity” to having large quotas of poor students is every bit as harmful as is the idea that we need quotas — a critical mass — of students from various ethnic backgrounds. Individual students can and will continue to make progress on their own by attending colleges and universities where they fit the intellectual profile. If Sacks has his way, a white kid from a poor family in rural Michigan with a mid-range SAT would end up going to the University of Michigan rather than a school such as Central Michigan. He’ll have trouble at the U of M, but may eventually graduate. The student he replaced might end up at Michigan State rather than the University of Michigan, where he’ll do fine but perhaps be less challenged. There’s no “national progress” in this.
The United States is not like feudal Europe where social classes were rigidly defined and rarely made contact with each other. Trying to engineer more class diversity in selective universities is useless.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.