In my prior post, I told you about the Dutchies, and how their children (and parents) don’t obsessively build a long resume of top grades and extracurriculars in order to qualify them for admission to an Ivy League college, or, failing that, the most prestigious second-choice possible. (To be sure, this isn’t even the case for the majority of high schoolers here, as might be the case in a Korea or Japan or China where the college entrance exam’s competitiveness requires late-night cram schools, but is a part of life for too many upper middle-class children.)
And, in addition to the harm it does to children who are pushed to live a life of stress and anxiety in a day and age where this should have long ago been vanquished with the end of child labor, there are other issues. Upper middle class parents use their knowledge and connections to boost their children’s chances of admission, as described in Richard V. Reeves’ Dream Hoarders. And Asian kids, despite their disproportionately high achievement levels, are held back by informal quotas by admissions departments who don’t want their universities to be “too Asian.”
But what does it matter whether one gets into an Ivy League school or not?
Imagine that this were just the equivalent of being able to move into a gated golf course community. Yes, it offers luxury, and stunning architecture, and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But no one’s missing out on anything of any importance by not living there. Or imagine this were the equivalent of buying luxury clothing brands — not just, not a big deal, but really a waste of money just for conspicuous consumption purposes.The problem with the unequal access to the Ivy League, and the pressure cooker 12 year long admissions process, is that it matters, not just for providing the ability to have a particularly swanky way of spending four years of study, but because students graduating from these colleges have an edge, a massive edge, in their career prospects, both for the alumni network they provide, and more immediately, due to the various top-ranking companies who hire exclusively there, or give very strong preferences to Ivy graduates.
So what if we solved the problem coming from the other direction?
Every major company has a Corporate Social Responsibility policy, in which they say things like, “we’re going to be a Top Employer for women” and “we won’t do business with sweatshops” and “we will construct energy-efficient buildings.”
What if the major progressive institutions and policymakers promoted a new tenet of Corporate Social Responsibility: a documented and actioned-on commitment to hire from public universities and lesser private colleges, with Ivies represented only in proportion to their overall population? If Ivy League attendance were a luxury good for the wealthy to be enjoyed for its own sake, like a designer handbag, rather than a surefire ticket to wealth and a corporate ladder-climb, then it would not matter nearly so much for so many people, and prospective students could instead focus on identifying the college that’s the right fit for them.
Seems to me this would be a far more effective way to resolve the issue rather than squabbling over who gets the prize of the Ivy League ticket to wealth.
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvard_Yard%2C_Harvard_University.JPG; By Daderot. (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons