Wednesday, June 13, 2007

They can buy anything, but they can't buy backbone.

I don't want to link because that might come off as criticism of a person who very generously provided information about her job at a university to a discussion on college financial aid, but this really rubs me the wrong way:
Universities produce a huge amount of this country's scientific research; they bring top scholars together and give them resources to work on society's intractable problems; and yes, they educate students, both first-generation college students and extremely privileged students who, we hope, will benefit from an education that brings them into close contact with less-privileged peers, emphasizes diverse perspectives, and challenges their comfort zones. (emphasis added)

Underprivileged college students are not zoo animals. They are not objects to be used to teach privileged students about how the other half lives and pop their bubbles of ignorant entitlement. They should be at elite colleges because those experiences will benefit them more than other educational or vocational opportunities, not because they can be examples of diversity who give the rich students additional perspective.

If anything, we should send poor students to elite schools so they can learn how to take advantage of the rich kids. They should figure out what persona they can adopt to ingratiate themselves with the wealthy and then work the connections they make with the rich kids paying full tuition to their benefit. Room with some blueblood and start a business out of the dorm together with his capital! Marry rich! Meet parents who could give you a job! Find out about careers and sectors of the economy that you never dreamed existed! If the perspective of rich students is narrow, circumstances often make those of poor students even narrower. How can you know if you'd want to be a lawyer or a CPA or a banker if you've never even met one?

I hate the idea that scholarship donations should only go to community colleges and public schools instead of more elite private schools as well. One of my best friends was the first in his family to get a college degree. Without the extremely generous financial aid provided by my college, that might not have been possible for him (not all colleges do their students the disservice of making them fund their educations with all or even mostly loans). And I highly doubt that he would ever have heard that you can make wads of cash as a redistricting consultant if it were not for the opportunities afforded by our small private college and its institutes, which offer undergraduates the chance to do research and are funded by and named for the very self-aggrandizing rich donors that some deplore.

Small private colleges that have more of a focus on teaching are probably a better environment for an underprepared product of a middling-to-awful public school than a some huge university where your class is a giant lecture hall with a teaching assistant who never learns your name. No professor at UCLA is going to call you on the phone if you miss a class. A CMC professor would. (It helps that there are only a couple of dozen students per class in small colleges, so your absence is notable and noted.)
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