Former Yale professor takes on elite colleges: They’re 'exacerbating income inequality'

Yahoo Finance

Is the higher education system broken? According to the New York Federal Reserve, student loan debt totals more than $1.2 trillion – exceeding outstanding credit card and auto loan debt. Students leave college with an expensive degree, but many are either unemployed or working in jobs that pay the minimum wage. William Deresiewicz, a former Yale professor and author of the new book Excellent Sheep, argues there is a way to reform higher education and it all starts with the admissions game.

He tells Yahoo Finance in the video above that admissions standards, especially at the most elite colleges in the country, exacerbate inequality because “it costs lot of money to produce the kind of kid who can get into these schools. It’s a resume's arms race that's going on in affluent suburbs. Not surprisingly, a vast majority of the kids who go to these schools are from affluent families.”

Related: Ditch Harvard for a state school: Fmr. Ivy League professor

Colleges choose students who play sports and musical instruments, perform service work in poor nations and boast a long list of extracurricular activities.

“All this costs a lot of money,” he adds.

Deresiewicz, who had a brief stint on the Yale admissions committee in the spring of 2008, firmly believes the college admissions game is “retarding social mobility and perpetuating privilege" especially for the “working-class, rural white.”

He provides numbers to back up his claims in a July New Republic article:

“In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be.”

Here's how Deresiewicz would level the admissions playing field: First, eliminate the preference for athletes and legacies. Second, let SAT scores be weighted to account for socioeconomic factors. Third, put an end to “resume stuffing" by forbidding students from including more than three extracurricular activities on their college applications.

Deresiewicz also challenges the type of skills that colleges seek in new students.

“Working at Denny's teaches a lot of skills,” he contends. “This type of service work is not valued in the admissions process.”

Deresiewicz also believes taxpayers could do more to help fund public education institutions and lower the cost of tuition. He argues that the government should increase its investment in public universities and colleges – many of which offer an education that rivals their Ivy League peers, in his view. That way students from low-income and middle-class families are not forced to take out excessive student loans, a financial burden that millions struggle to pay off as working adults.

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