The NYT on Poor Students at Rich Universities
The article published in today's NYTs – Efforts to Recruit Students Lag at Some Elite Colleges – will likely send a shudder through administrative offices at many colleges and universities. I expect to be hearing about it for some time.
This is as it should be. There is something about extremely rich institutions failing in their efforts to use their riches benevolently that offends the sensibilities.
But shouldn't those of us involved with higher education institutions be asking deeper questions than the Times is capable of asking? Questions such as – what benefit can one of these elite institutions offer to a poor young man or woman? Is it simply a matter of recruiting him or her? Or is there more that needs to be done?
I don't pretend to know the answers. I do know that top private colleges and universities rest to a shocking degree on the elite social capital that wealthy students already possess when they come to their institutions. There's a great deal of vanity in these institutions that depends upon the ability of their graduates to use family and friends to enter into elite social circles regardless of the substance of the education, and regardless of the quality, or lack thereof, of the four-year social experience.
Here is my perspective: It is not enough to bring poor students to an elite college campus. The colleges and universities need to listen to such students more than is done now. The senior administrations, the faculties, the other students, and Boards of schools need to explore the perspectives of these poor students and use those perspectives to alter the institutions themselves. It's not enough to bring them to our top colleges and universities. The campuses, the pedagogy, the social customs all need to change to be worthy of such students.