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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