Poison Ivy – new book review

26 09 2006

Poison Ivy
Sep 21st 2006
From The Economist print edition

“Not so much palaces of learning as bastions of privilege’ and hypocrisy — Over the past few years Daniel Golden has written a series of coruscating stories in the Wall Street Journal about the admissions practices of America’s elite universities, suggesting that they are not so much engines of social justice as bastions of privilege.

Now he has produced a book—“The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges—and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates”—that deserves to become a classic.

Mr Golden shows that elite universities do everything in their power to admit the children of privilege. If they cannot get them in through the front door by relaxing their standards, then they smuggle them in through the back. No less than 60% of the places in elite universities are given to candidates who have some sort of extra “hook”. . .

Why do Mr Golden’s findings matter so much?

The most important reason is that America is witnessing a potentially explosive combination of trends.

Econominist art for admissions expose book review

Social inequality is rising at a time when the escalators of social mobility are slowing (America has lower levels of social mobility than most European countries). The returns on higher education are rising: the median earnings in 2000 of Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher were about double those of high-school leavers. But elite universities are becoming more socially exclusive. Between 1980 and 1992, for example, the proportion of disadvantaged children in four-year colleges fell slightly (from 29% to 28%) while the proportion of well-to-do children rose substantially (from 55% to 66%).

Mr Golden’s findings do not account for all of this. Get rid of affirmative action for the rich, and rich children . . .

will still do better. But they clearly account for some differences: “unhooked” candidates are competing for just 40% of university places. And they raise all sorts of issues of justice and hypocrisy.

What is one to make of Mr Frist, who opposes affirmative action for minorities while practising it for his own son?

. . . what ought to have been their guiding principle all along: admitting people to university on the basis of their intellectual ability.



2 responses

27 09 2006
28 09 2006

Cocking a Snook got our first frisky tail flick from “Hell” for posting this – haven’t figured out why it didn’t show up automatically but we added Hell to our blogroll and here’s a link to Hell so you can check the tail flick for yourself — just remember, you can check in any time you like but you can never leave!

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