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Back To School

In an earlier post, My Education In Going to College, I commented:

what was done most recently by some wonderfully-over-funded people in an effort to get their children into a Tier one school certainly did not have to happen in the manner it did. They could have just approached school authorities and with a “Thornton Mellon’s” (Back to School’s – Rodney Dangerfield) audacity, offered to pay full ride and make a sizeable donation to the school. Maybe I am wrong; but, I do not know of many schools who would turn down a half a $million donation or so and a student who is willing to pay full price at the same time. Schools are short of funding. I am pretty sure this is going on today with little being said about the donations. Perhaps, others here would disagree with me?

It appears my comment is more correct than wishful thinking as detailed in The Atlantic’s “Elite Colleges Constantly Tell Low-Income Students That They Do Not Belong.”

The Atlantic article explores Anthony Jack’s “The Privileged Poor” and gets into the detail of the prevailing wealth at top-tier schools. For instance, it is no secret, many of the students come from elite origins. For example:

“Led by the Harvard economist Raj Chetty a team of researchers found students coming from families in the top 1 percent of household incomes (those who make more than $630,000 a year) are 77 times more likely to be admitted to and attend an Ivy League school than students coming from families who make less than $30,000 a year.” I do not consider this to be a new discovery. Most people go to where they can and to what they can afford. And many end up at for-profits with a hope of achieving some type of equivalency and a chance to succeed.

“The study found that 38 elite colleges have more students who come from families in the top 1 percent than students who come from the bottom 60 percent or families making less than $65,000 a year.” Granted those 1 percenters are not the “real” rich in income as the 1 tenth of 1 percent comprising 115,000 households but, they do have enough money available to influence a school. They do count in the scheme of influencing outcomes.

14% of all the students at the elite colleges such as Stanford, Princeton, or Columbia come from the bottom half of the US income distribution. Before I go on, the author (Jack) details what he identifies as the privileged-poor and the doubly-disadvantaged. Privileged poor students come from low-income backgrounds and more than likely attended wealthy private high schools which gives them familiarity with and an acquired access to the social and cultural capital making people successful at elite universities. In other words, they know the ropes and how to get about. Doubly disadvantaged students arrive at these top institutions from neighborhood public schools many of which are overcrowded and underfunded. These students have excelled, however they are ill-equipped and lack the sociocultural tools necessary to understand the nuances of how these elite colleges operate. The doubly disadvantaged lack the social capital many students the 77-percenters and the privileged poor, the faculty, and the administrators have taken for granted. There are few mentors, councilors, or whatever you want to call them to guide them.

The advantage of the 77-percenters have is in the exposure to better schools, neighborhoods, and economics. For all intents and purposes their parents buy their way into the elite schools through private-school tuition, test prep, donations to colleges, and a myriad of other advantages which opened doors and prepared them to compete. They also rarely experience the same level of skepticism as to whether they have ‘earned’ their place as would those who enter the elite schools as a privileged poor of doubly disadvantaged.

Back to the controversy . . . rather than buy their way into the university with full price tuition and “Thorton Mellon-like” donations, these parents tried a cheaper route to getting their children admitted. Historically, the elite have used wealth to get their kids into top colleges via legal and widely recognized means—legacy, athletic admissions favoring the wealthy, and the use of test preparation to gain an advantage. Some followed the route of Thornton Mellon from “Back To School” and made or offered some nice donations meant to influence the school regardless of whether it paid for a new School of Business building or a revamped sports field.

The parents caught up in the illegal bribery opted instead for a different scheme of conspiracy and bribes. These bribes were cheaper than a building, less costly than paying for years of student preparation, going to sports games and having your child coached, and personally guiding and working with your children. Many were the vacations we took focused around soccer tournaments and many were the meetings we had with teachers and colleges.

Upfront here is the deal; a $million plus full tuition or meet me tonight at such and such place for $500,000 and full tuition. The only difference is how the bribe is made as the thumb is still on the admissions scale of yea or nay.

What is the difference? A bribe is a bribe and while one is illegal, I would say both face a test of morality.

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My Education in Going to College

As I explained in a conversation, what was done most recently by some wonderfully-over-funded people in an effort to get their children into a Tier one school certainly did not have to happen in the manner it did. They could have just approached school authorities and with a “Mellon’s” (Back to School’s – Rodney Dangerfield) audacity and offered to pay full ride and make a sizeable donation to the school. Maybe I am wrong; but, I do not know of many schools who would turn down a half a $million donation or so and a student who is willing to pay full price at the same time. Schools are short of funding. I am pretty sure this is going on today with little being said about the donations. Perhaps, others here would disagree with me?

Unfortunately, I was never so well-funded to initiate a back door funding approach such as what we are reading about today. My field of endeavor being Purchasing, Logistics, Distribution, and other similar disciplines did not command the type of salary to allow me to even hint at $hundreds of thousands or even $tens of thousands. In my field, we did not have the respect and admiration the reported actors had in their fields and accumulate such money. I was also caught in the 10 year economic cycle and one year spent time gaffing up trees and cutting them down. As Rodney would say; “Where does one go to get some respect around here?” It kept my family in one place and it paid the bills.

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby tells us what his mother said to him while a sophomore in high school; “If you want to go to college, you’d better get a scholarship.” I never had such a discussion with my parents other than my dad telling me not to do what he did. At 19 I was in the military, got out at 22, and married this pretty woman from NYC who in the beginning made more money as a Paralegal than I did with a college education. It paid the bills until such time as I caught up.

Suddenly I had responsibility for more than just myself. So I picked out a small Lasallian Catholic college, used my VA bennies and the state grant to pay for it, and finished up in three years. Never thought of Northwestern or University of Chicago as neither were in the cards and my parents would not have understood it much less pay for either. As a good Baptist I chose a Jesuit University over a Vincentian University for my Masters. Going to school at night then seemed to drag on forever. It was years later when I found out the high school and colleges I attended were pretty good schools. Each year, I donate a few hundred and get invited to various functions which I do not attend. I do not know anyone at these schools other than the Deans.

As advice to my own children, I suggested they go to where the money was. If they offered you grants and scholarships, they wanted you. If all they could conjure up was a subsidized Stafford loan at $3,000/year for a $30,000/year education, they were telling you something. Thank the school for their time and move on to the next one. In the end, it worked and we were also able to finagle a few more $thousand yearly at some pretty good small colleges for each. They do well for themselves and have paid their school loans.

As I sit here in my Levi jeans and ratty-looking Jesuit University sweat shirt writing this, I find myself agreeing with Jacoby and confirming what I already know; “No one needs to attend an elite university to get a decent education or to make a success of their lives, just as no one needs to wear a Dolce and Gabbana sweater to keep warm or drive a Ferrari Enzo to get from here to there.

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