The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges

The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges

The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges

The Power of Privilege: Yale and America's Elite Colleges

Synopsis

It is widely assumed that admission to elite U. S. universities is based solely on academic merit- the best and brightest are admitted to Harvard, Yale, and their peer institutions as determined by test scores and GPA, and not by lineage or family income. But does reality support those expectations? Or are admissions governed by a logic that rewards socioeconomic status while disguising it as personal merit?

The Power of Privilege examines the nexus between social class and admissions at America's top colleges from the vantage point of Yale University, a key actor in the history of higher education. It is a documented history of the institutional gatekeepers, confident of the validity of socially biased measures of merit, seeking to select tomorrow's leadership class from among their economically privileged clientele. Acceptance in prestigious colleges still remains beyond the reach of most students except those from high-income professional families. Ultimately, the author suggests reforms that would move America's top schools toward becoming genuine academic meritocracies.

Excerpt

Even Americans unfamiliar with the word embrace meritocracy as if it were a birthright. We believe in the essential goodness of the idea that people should be able to achieve in school and at work to the full extent of their natural abilities and drive. Being rewarded for what one does, rather than whom one is, and being able to rise or fall on one's merits is part of what defines the American dream of individual freedom and personal accomplishment. Our national ethos of self-determination may be a delusion, but its appeal persists, even internationally. A female graduate student, speaking for French youths frustrated by a culture of limited opportunities, lamented to a New York Times reporter, “We are never taught the idea of the American dream,” the concept of “the self-made man.”

For many Americans, schools and colleges are the vessels of our meritocratic aspirations; they provide our primary experience with an institution that evaluates individual performance. Reliable surveys tell us that most adults think of merit in school or college as academic accomplishments; we . . .

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