Making Top Colleges Less Aristocratic and More Meritocratic

Education is supposed to be America’s primary engine for social mobility, but growing economic inequality is vividly reflected in our nation’s top colleges. At the nation’s most selective 193 colleges and universities, affluent students (those from the richest socioeconomic quarter of the population) outnumber economically disadvantaged students (those from the bottom quarter) by 14 to 1.

To shine light on this issue, The New York Times recently published a new index of selective colleges, measuring their commitment to socioeconomic diversity. Some colleges, such as Amherst and Harvard, have made considerable progress in opening their doors to low-income students, while others have done less well.

Of course, Amherst and Harvard are wealthy colleges, substantially richer than even many other elite colleges. Administrators at some of these other colleges point this out when asked about their own socioeconomic diversity: Wealthy universities can afford to increase socioeconomic diversity, the argument runs, but not everyone has the endowment to do so. <Read more.>