Turning our eyes from the primary, via Matt, Kevin Carey brings us a much-deserved takedown of last weekend's "Education Life" supplement in the Times on the recent moves by elite universities to offer more financial aid to low- and middle-income students. It's not about getting them more money, says Carey, it's about getting them into these institutions in the first place:
The problem with this narrative is the implication that the socioeconomic makeup of a given college is primarily a function of who chooses to apply to go there. It's not. It's a function of who the college chooses to let in. This is not to say that these programs aren't a step in the right direction, in and of themselves -- they are. And all else being equal, they've probably had some effect on increasing the economic diversity of the applicant pool -- although it would be nice to see some hard numbers to back this up.
The unfortunate reality is that students from lower socio-economic groups are far less likely to get into the schools in the first place, whether they can afford to go there or not. Unless big institutions do away with legacy admissions or policies that admit students based on "merits" usually associated with higher socio-economic standing (like the ability to participate in numerous extracurriculars, attend fancy summer enrichment programs, or take that extra test-prep course), increasing financial aid isn't going to help. We need to provide better access to better schools well before a student even considers applying to college. If institutions of higher education really care about equity, they should be investing those funds in public schools that need it, or creating summer programs for disadvantaged middle schoolers, or, if you really want to take on the problem of educational disparity at its root, creating pre-kindergarten programs.
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