Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This article just made my night. Thanks to Andrew for keeping up with his alma mater! Amherst College's new president is tackling the very real problem of elitism in our top colleges. And I love that his name is Tony Marx.

" As it turned out, Marx's radical message was just what Amherst trustees wanted to hear. Over the past two decades the college had committed to increasing minorities to a third of the 1,650-student campus, up from 13% in 1985. But while this brought in more low-income students, Amherst remains an incubator of the elite. More than half its students come from families prosperous enough to pay the full $42,000 annual tab out of their own pockets. Many shell out thousands more for cars, meals out, and other extras. (One student showed up recently with two BMWs -- one a convertible for sunny days.) "We were blown away" by Marx's passion and commitment, recalls Jide Zeitlin, a partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co. (GS ) who has since become chair of Amherst's board. [...]

Boosting socioeconomic diversity is already a front-burner issue on the campuses of elite colleges. Everyone from Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers to William G. Bowen, ex-president of Princeton University, is grappling with a deeply troubling fact of American life: that 30 years of inequality have all but shut off top colleges to the poor.

Kids from the lowest socioeconomic quartile represent a mere 3% of students at the 146 most selective U.S. universities, vs. 74% from the top quartile, according to the Century Foundation, a New York think tank. It's not just a problem at elite schools, either. By age 24 only 8% of these bottom-quarter students have earned a BA from any U.S. college, vs. 46% of those from top-quarter families, according to Stephen Rose, co-author of the Century study. As educated baby boomers retire over the next 15 years, they will be followed in the workforce by more minority youth who are poor and less likely to have a degree. Says Harvard's Summers: "Social mobility is a central challenge for our country." "

From Business Week, no less!

I think this is such an interesting turn, especially as so many of these elite campuses are incredibly liberal, while maintaining this status quo. I love that class is being addressed, especially as it seemed like a complete non issue when I was applying to MHC. I remember calling the admissions office to ask if they had any assistance to fly low-income students out for their preview weekend, and was treated as if I were asking for the moon. Later, I found that it was standard procedure at MHC to offer to fly out ALANA students (African American, Latina American, Asian American, Native American). Of course, this is a great program, and important for addressing ethnic & race inequity on campuses, but it completely ignores the fact that many white students are coming from low-income families, and might see choosing and going to college as a disorienting experience. Basically, it'll be wonderful to see at least some elite colleges addressing both race & class inequities.

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