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Higher Ed Shake Up
Breaking the Ivy League Monopoly

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, racking up billions in tax-exempt donations, connecting their disproportionately wealthy students to lucrative job opportunities, and fostering exclusive social networks of the rich and powerful. In his latest USA Today column, Glenn Reynolds highlights the extent of this problem, and offers a trio of (mostly) tongue-in-cheek proposals for bringing the Ivy League to heel:

  • We should eliminate the tax deductibility of contributions to schools having endowments in excess of $1 billion. At some point, as our president has said, you’ve made enough money. That won’t end all major donations to the Ivy League, but it will doubtless encourage donors to look at less wealthy and more deserving schools, such as Northern Kentucky University, recently deemed “more inspirational than Harvard” in the London Times Higher Education magazine.
  • We should require that all schools with endowments over $1 billion spend at least 10% of their endowment annually on student financial aid. That will make it easier for less wealthy students to attend elite institutions.
  • We should require that university admissions be based strictly on objective criteria such as grades and SAT/ACT scores, with random drawings used to cull the herd further if necessary. That will eliminate the Ivy League’s documented discrimination against Asians.

We don’t think this kind of heavy-handed state intervention is necessary—and Professor Reynolds, libertarian that he is, surely doesn’t either. But there are less extreme measures that really could be effective at knocking the Ivy League off of its pedestal.

One possibility is a system of national exams, sponsored by employers, that would allow students from less prestigious schools to demonstrate that they had learned as much as or more than Ivy grads. As it stands, the top companies companies tend to recruit only at the top schools, so it is difficult for students from West Texas University or California State Chico to demonstrate their qualifications. Hundreds of companies use university prestige as an imperfect proxy for intellectual ability.

Needless to say, this system is deeply unfair. Whether or not someone impressed an admissions committee at age 17 (and admission committees are imbued with the usual higher education pieties and prejudices) is hardly the best way to measure what he or she has learned by age 22. People mature in different ways and at different paces, and use their time in college differently as well. Since it can be hard to perform poorly at grade inflation mills like Harvard, especially in the soft subjects, almost everybody who gets in graduates—no matter how little they learn.

Imagine if a coalition of companies that hire large numbers of recent graduates (Bain, McKinsey, Google, Teach for America, etc.) on a national basis were to set up a system of exams that allowed students to demonstrate what they had learned and what they can achieve—and then those companies chose employees based on scores, with no regard to undergraduate institution. Some British companies have already taken steps in this direction. If American companies followed suit, they would unleash tremendous potential by broadening their applicant pool to a much greater number of potentially qualified candidates. They would also do more to promote social justice in America than armies of Ivy League diversity bureaucrats and Halloween costume police could do in a lifetime.

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