Category Archives: college

Is Economic Mobility Destined to be a Zero Sum Game?

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury


In the New York Times, Richard V. Reeves is smacking sacred cows, positing that there is no way for everyone to win in our society. Writing on “The Glass-Floor Problem,” Reeves looks at mobility and “sticky floors,” noting:

It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes.

Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home. They invest large amounts of economic, social and cultural capital to keep their own children high up the social scale. As they should: there is nothing wrong with parents doing the best by their children.

The problem comes if institutional frameworks in, say, the higher education system or the labor market are distorted in favor of the powerful — a process the sociologist Charles Tilly labeled “opportunity hoarding.” The less talented children of the affluent are able to defy social gravity and remain at the top of the ladder, reducing the number of places open to those from less fortunate backgrounds.

Many New York Times commenters rejected this framework entirely – the idea that someone else has to lose for another to win was too unsettling to consider. And yet, when we compete in an economy of “elites” and there are limited spots available for the most desired schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, that is exactly what has to happen. However, what interested me more than Reeves’s initial argument was a large piece of his solution: access to more elite colleges.

College matters a lot for social mobility. For someone from a poor background, getting a four-year degree virtually guarantees upward mobility. Elite colleges act as gateways to the best career paths. Getting more poor kids into colleges, and getting the brightest into the best colleges, ought to be a national mission.

In essence, Reeves wants to solve a problem by reinforcing the foundation of the problem. Continue reading

Quoted: Inside Higher Ed on Meritocracy Vs. Bias

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“While the principle of fairness may be a driving concern in people’s attitudes towards policies such as affirmative action, social welfare, and fair housing, the malleability of white respondents’ attitudes towards the importance of university admissions criteria in response to racial considerations indicates that public opinion about the importance of such criteria is anything but fair, at least if the definition of fairness entails a procedural fairness by which all groups should be subject to the same procedural process, i.e., same weighting of admissions criteria, when determining whether an individual should be admitted to a prestigious public university system, an opportunity that will significantly shape that person’s life outcomes.” Read more…

– Frank L. Samson, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami, whose recent study of white adults in California revealed that they favor admissions policies prioritizing high school grade-point averages and standardized test scores, until they are focused on the success of Asian-American students.

 

Image Credit: James Almond on Flickr

Quoted: Have HBCUs Outlived Their Usefulness?

The (now closed) Saint Paul’s College crest via. HBCUbuzz.com

The news of St. Paul’s closing came around the same time that a board member at Howard University, another historically black institution, wrote a much-discussed public letter warning about the school’s dire financial straits. The school was hemorrhaging money, the trustee said. Its student body was shrinking. “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now,” she wrote.

These events come amidst a flurry of questions about the educational opportunities available to black students. Just this week, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in a major case on affirmative action in higher education, asking a lower court to reconsider the legality of the University of Texas’s admissions policies.

For decades, folks have been asking: is affirmative action still necessary? And they ask the same questions of HBCUs: have black colleges outlived their usefulness?

If you look at the numbers, they can be kind of jarring: aside from more well-known schools like Spelman and Howard, most HBCUs have six-year graduation rates below 50 percent. According to the Journals of Blacks in Higher Education, 24 black colleges saw only a third of their graduates earn a bachelor’s degree.

But Gasman said that so much of this is a function of demographics. [What HBCUs] have at their core is a dedication to low-income students,” she said. “That makes it harder to have higher graduation rates” — HBCUs students face financial pressures outside of college and so they have narrower margins of error. “If you’re doing that kind of work, you’re dealing with low-income students, you’re tuition-driven, your alumni are not making enormous salaries and you’re dealing with racism, it’s a difficult situation.”

But as low as those graduation rates may be, the numbers at many HBCUS are still higher than the national average for black graduations. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education recentl ytook a look at 41 institutions, and found that more than half those HBCUS saw their graduation numbers tick up over the last 15 years, and 10 of those schools saw increases in the double-digits.

– Gene Demby, “Are HBCUs in Trouble? An Evergreen Question” via NPR Code Switch, June 26, 2013

Late Update: Catch Kendra James On Al-Jazeera Today!

Just wanted to give everybody a heads-up: Our own Kendra James will be appearing on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream at 3:25 p.m. EST to discuss affirmative action policies in the U.S. in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to send Fisher v. University of Texas back to an appeals court. She’ll be joined in the panel discussion by Ari Berman from The Nation, Jerome Hudson from the National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, Michigan Daily‘s Yash Bhutada and libertarian blogger Kristin Tate.

Added benefit for online viewers: Not only do you get 5 extra minutes at the start, but you can participate in an additional 10 minute post-show. Congrats, Kendra!

Transgender Studies Quarterly Plans To Kick Ass With The Help Of Kickstarter–And You

By Andrea Plaid

More info from their Kickstarter page:

Transgender Studies has far-reaching implications across many academic disciplines, including not only gender and women’s studies, sexuality studies, and LGBT Studies, but also social sciences, health, art, cultural studies, and many other broadly defined fields. The development of transgender studies also makes a politically significant intervention into the lives of trans community members with tremendous unmet needs, by changing what and how we know about transgender issues.

This project began in 2008, when we were invited to co-edit a special transgender studies edition of Women’s Studies Quarterly. We received more than two hundred submissions for publication, yet we could only publish twelve of them. We knew then that it was time for transgender studies to have its own high-profile publications venue. Five years later, there is still no place to accommodate the kind of conversation we want to foster on transgender issues. Your support right now could change that.

You have the opportunity to be part of this historic moment. Once the journal is launched in April 2014, subscriptions will eventually cover the cost of publication. To subsidize the cost of publishing the journal, we need to raise at least $100,000 in start-up funds. We’re already more than halfway to our goal, and would now like to invite you to invest in the next stage in the development of transgender studies, by helping us complete our fundraising for launching TSQ. Your support will help us create a first-rate platform for publishing peer-reviewed transgender-related scholarship—something that can only benefit the entire field of gender and sexuality studies.

There’s 13 days left to donate, so please kick in what you can and spread the word!

Diversity at Wharton

Image courtesy of Jack Duval on Flick

Image courtesy of Jack Duval on Flick

By Guest Contributor S. L. Huang; originally published at slhuang.com

At my sister’s graduation Sunday, they flashed up on a screen the name and city of origin for each student in the roll call.

My mother and I were both very impressed at the number of international students.  There were students from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Canada, and Japan.  We saw Colombia, Australia, and Singapore more than once, and quite a few students came from China, Taiwan, India, or Turkey.

The gender ratio appeared to be about 50/50.  And even among the American students the diversity was staggering.  We saw a huge number of South and East Asian-American graduates, a decent group of African-American Whartonites, and quite a good chunk of Hispanic names.  In fact, the class was far, far more diverse than the statistics for America as a whole.[1]  And as far as I could tell, every (or almost every) name called as winning a student award—for leadership, for philanthropy, for general excellence—was the name of a POC, which means that not only does Wharton accept a large percentage of nonwhite people, but those people succeed there.

This isn’t affirmative action.  Wharton is probably the most exclusive business school in America; they would have no reason to dilute their student body in order to be more diverse than the American population, when simply coming close to the demographic curve would allay any criticism.

I kept thinking that if this were a movie, the extras would never have been cast with this much diversity.  Yet here it was in real life.

The other reason I find all this notable is that Wharton is arguably releasing the world’s future CEOs and other business leaders into the world.  This is a group often identified as coinciding with Republican party ideals, and yet, as seen in the 2012 election, the GOP has a long way to go in attracting the votes of nonwhite citizens and women who are swayed by concerns other than their tax liabilities.  If the Wharton graduation is any indicator, the face of business in America might be changing, and political powers would do well to take note.

  1. The official statistics for the Wharton Class of 2013 show that it’s a bit over a third international students, that the U.S. students are a third nonwhite (meaning the class entire is probably more like half nonwhite), and that almost half the class is women.

Quoted: 100 Questions Toward Cultural Competency

100 Questions About Indian Americans

Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.

One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.

When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.

I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”

“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”

I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”

The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”

The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.

–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13

Race + Higher Ed: Fear Not, Suzy. You’re Still #1!

By Kendra James

As we celebrate the graduating classes of 2013 over the next few weekends, lets take some time to glance at the new data on college graduation percentages vs. minority enrollment rates. There’s no accompanying article to the data (all via the National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), but if there were I suspect it would start like this: “Fear not, Suzy. You’re still #1.”

At Elite Colleges, an Admissions Gap for Minorities - Interactive Feature - NYTimes.com (1) Continue reading