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Higher Education Watch
Another Way the Ivy League Perpetuates Inequality

We’ve written before that “America’s top universities, for all their rhetoric about equality, diversity, and social justice, actually do far more to perpetuate and sustain the upper class than they do to promote those values.” Schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton “rack up billions in tax-exempt donations, connect their disproportionately wealthy students to lucrative job opportunities, and foster exclusive social networks of the rich and powerful.”

A new study out of UC San Diego highlights one of the ways this process works. According to the authors, elite universities facilitate the Ivy League-Wall Street nexus by actively shepherding students into fields of finance and consulting by giving these firms preferential access to their students. CBS News‘ Lynn O’Shaughnessy reports:

In great numbers, students who attend Ivy League institutions end up pursuing jobs that are in the highly lucrative fields of management consulting, finance and technology.

But do students want to attend a school like Harvard just because they aspire to work for firms like Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital, or is something else at play?

In seeking answers, Amy Binder, a professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego, and her collaborators, sought to find out what was behind the stampede at elite universities into the lucrative fields of financial services, consulting and technology. Binder discovered that a huge driving force behind the embrace of these highly compensated careers was the behavior of the universities themselves. By their actions, these schools set these lucrative occupations apart and allowed recruiters greater access to the students that most other occupations didn’t enjoy. […]

The researchers discovered that most students were not focused on pursuing jobs in investment banking and consulting before arriving on their campuses. In fact, most had no idea what these jobs were … A major reason students became excited about these fields is because the schools essentially gave great access to companies in these fields at the expense of other ones.

Of course, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with these fields, and students at elite colleges would likely be drawn to them for their high salaries even if they weren’t favored in the campus career-sorting process (especially seeing as graduates are beset with increasingly large student debts). Moreover, this is a single study—and the dynamics here are surely complicated. But by giving Goldman Sachs and Bain special access to their students, elite schools make it easier for those firms to ignore talented students from non-elite colleges, and limit the opportunities for more civically minded organizations to recruit Ivy League talent. They also facilitate the formation of a segregated class of high-status people who all work at the same firms, live in the same places, and share the same social and political views.

Ivy League administrators are currently appeasing campus social justice activists by constructing new racial identity centers and mandating more diversity training for their faculty. They could do far more to advance the cause of equality and justice by loosening their incestuous relationship with high-end recruiters, and making the job application process more fair for students who don’t have the privilege of attending a top school.

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  • jeburke

    Frankly, I think it’s total BS that Ivies provide some sort of “special access to students.” For example, any large employer can use Yale’s Office of Career Strategy to recruit. Big financial services companies do it more routinely because (a) they affirmatively want to recruit Ivy grads, and (b) many Yale seniors want jobs at Goldman Sachs. Why is this surprising — much less mysterious?

  • Stephen Jenks

    The “Ivies” do an excellent job of identifying and attracting the smartest, hardest working, most achievement-oriented high school seniors globally. Why wouldn’t the companies that benefit the most from employing individuals with these characteristics, and offer the most lucrative career opportunities, focus their recruiting efforts on the pool of college students with the highest concentration of these same characteristics? Markets work. If the authors of the study had read “The Bell Curve” or were in any way conversant with Charles Murray’s work, they could’ve dispensed with the whole effort.

    • Fat_Man

      “The “Ivies”… the
      smartest, hardest working, …”

      This, of course, is what they want you to believe. It is nowhere near true. The admissions system does not make any effort to identify such persons, or recruit them.

      Let us start with some math. About 5 million Americans turn 18 every year. The top 20 private colleges in the US (20 out of 21 on the US news list) have about 70,000 seats per class year.

      An IQ of 130 is two standard deviations above the mean on most IQ scales. That corresponds to 700 on the SAT scale. That represents about 2.3% of the population, about 115,000 kids per year. It is fair to assume that any of them could do the work at any of the top 20 schools. But, there are not enough seats for them. But wait, it gets worse.

      Most of the seats at these colleges are filled by students who are drawn from several pools of kids, who may be smart, but are not necessarily in the top 2.3%. A senior faculty member at one famous Ivy League School told me that 45% of the kids are admitted because of athletic considerations. Another large pool is so called legacies, and the children of large donors. Other pools include faculty brats, feeder school grads, and affirmative action cases. An increasing number of the students are foreigners. Columbia U has 10,000 foreign students out of a total student body of 40,000 (graduate and undergraduate).

      My guess, and it is only a guess because the colleges will not publish the true numbers lest they become a political target, is that less than a quarter of the seats in the Top 20, are open to all comers. Of course, this is before financial and cultural issues, are taken into account. E.g. want to poison your chances of being admitted to an Ivy? Join 4H.

      This doesn’t mean that graduates of these schools are not reasonably intelligent. My guess is that most of them have IQs above 120. But that number is not rare (9% of the population, 450,000 kids). They are good enough for most employers, but they are simply pretty common.

      I would also guess that the very smartest kids, those with IQs above 145 (SAT 800), are underrepresented in the top private schools. There are only about 5,000 of them spread across the country, which means that in the average high school (of which there are more than 20,000 in the US), the class valedictorian is not that smart. Further, I would hypothesize that many of these kids have very spotty academic records. School does not interest or challenge them and they only put in the minimum effort. They don’t spend time with their teachers who are their intellectual inferiors. And they may not get along with their class mates. The top private schools will pass on them because they have B averages, despite their spectacular test scores, and they have very poor extra-curricular activities. They won’t be on Student Council.

      All in all, the top private schools cannot be justified on meritocratic grounds.

      • Anthony

        Outlined and presented affirmatively (and on target as far as it goes).

      • qet

        While I don’t disagree with the thrust of your remarks, consider the following:

        First, you hang everything on a metric called “IQ,” when that metric is, for a great many critics of US educational policy, just as problematic as SAT scores, GPAs and any other metric you might care to name. Shifting Ivy admissions to a purely metric basis will merely push all of the controversy onto determination of those metrics (that is to say, it will push onto them all of the controversy that is not already on them already).

        Second, you equate IQ with “merit” in concluding that the Ivies are not pure meritocracies. Yet merit may–in fact does–consist in elements other than dubious raw intelligence metrics. Anyone who has ever known someone with a “genius level” IQ will likely agree with me that these are not people who we necessarily or even generally want controlling our social and economic institutions. Such a statement will seem counterintuitive only to someone who is either young or has never known such persons. My point is simply that basing admissions on factors other than intelligence metrics does not therefore mean that they are not meritocratic.

        Third, athletics. Yes. But athletes are not necessarily unworthy on intellectual grounds. I haven’t researched the matter, but Byron White and Pat Haden come to mind.

        Fourth, legacies. Also yes. But every university admits legacies, so it is a sort of constant that we can factor out of the analysis.

        From personal experience, having attended both a top engineering school and an Ivy, I will offer that in my estimation the proportion of truly stupid people at Ivies and other “top” colleges is far less than at other institutions, so whatever mix of factors they use for admissions, they seem to be getting it more right than not as far as quality goes. Now, what these places do to the kids once they have them in their clutches is a whole other matter. . . . .

        • Fat_Man

          I was responding to the FP, who raised the IQ issue by reference to “The Bell Curve”. I was not advocating any policy based on IQs or test scores.

          My own view is that the college admissions system is designed to reproduce the hierarchy of elites, to strain out the children of elites who are dull or drug addicted, to reward loyal servitors of the ruling party, and to recruit enough members of rising ethnic groups to appease the groups.

          I believe that universities themselves are sclerotic, over privileged, and run by people who would not be allowed to be night managers at a 7-11. As institutions they have lost their way intellectually and morally. I also believe that the United States is run by the worst ruling class ever, and that we desperately need to change it.

          I think that the best way to run the college admissions system to force the universities to change, is for it to be a lottery open to all high school graduates. Then, no ethnic group could complain about discrimination, nor could they hold unearned privileged.

  • Ofer Imanuel

    As someone in both Tech and Finance, this is backwards. Tech and Finance companies are trying to reach quality employees (and relatively cheap ones) by hitting on high end universities – if nothing else due to the concentration of high SAT / ACT grades.

  • Anthony

    Reads like a little “class” envy to me.

  • Jim__L

    Yep, this is how the whole corrupt process starts. This is how the ruling class forms, those “booted and spurred”, who feel entitled to lord it over the rest of us and make sure that government Of the Philosopher-Kings, By the Philosopher-Kings, (but mostly) FOR the Philosopher-Kings, does not perish from this earth.

    This is how we get intellectually inbred echo-chamber ideas like AGW, Big Goverment, and Too Big To Fail.

    It’s time to start brain-trust-busting.

    • Fat_Man

      My proposal is to require the colleges to admit students by lottery. The lottery would be open to any high school graduate. No more special snowflakes.

  • qet

    This argument is unconvincing, to say the least. Being an “elite” (whatever that even means) in America has always been problematic; elites have always been targets for social and political opprobrium here.

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