This is from a few days ago, but I just saw this Boston Globe piece via Jack and Jill Politics, which highlights the fact that rich, well-connected white kids are much more likely to push more-qualified students aside for seats at the country's most prestigious schools than black or Latino students, despite all the chatter about the evils of affirmative action.
Peter Schmidt, deputy editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, writes that researchers with access to the college admissions data that many institutions keep a tight guard on found that 15 percent of freshmen at 146 "highly selective" colleges are white students who didn't meet the school's minimum admissions standards for high school GPAs and SAT or ACT scores. There are more than twice as many sub-par privileged white kids at highly competitive institutions than there are black and Latino students whose race gave them a boost in competing for a spot, the researchers found. Some of the white kids are athletes, and many others are the children or friends of alumni, politicians, faculty members, donors, and administrators.
Schmidt also notes that these schools spend just 40 percent of the money for financial aid on students with a documented financial need; the bulk of it goes to students they think will enhance the college's reputation or become big donors later in life. As a result, kids from the wealthiest quarter of the country are 25 times to go to a selective college than the bottom quarter -- so, big surprise, everything about college in America today still perpetuates historical privileges.
Rarely though do you see the weight of that privilege spelled out so clearly. Add to this the indirect privileges of being white, wealthy, and/or well-connected in America, like the greater chance that you'll go to a better high school, take SAT prep courses, be able to do a slew of extracurricular activities, or have doting parents ushering you off to violin lessons or checking your homework. I mean this to both assert the continued importance of affirmative action policies, but also to illustrate that they're not enough alone. Colleges and universities need to have a wider commitment to improving the possibilities for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – no matter what color they might be. How can that happen? Well, well-meaning rich donors could require that their donations go toward students who actually need it, and alumni with some degree of sway at their alma mater who want to use their powers for progress rather than perpetuating the status quo could step up. If this article demonstrates anything, it's that colleges are more likely to respond to that sort of pressure than they are to be guided by a fundamental belief that they should be advancing social mobility.