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Are College Admissions Need-Blind?

Are College Admissions Need-Blind?

Shamus Khan | GOOD

June 07, 2010

For colleges, being economically representative of our nation would spell financial ruin. Let me use my own university as an example. (The reader should note: Columbia University is one of the “best” elite universities in the nation when it comes to its class composition.) Half of our student body comes from a family that is able to pay the $55,000 in total expenses for a year at Columbia. It represents more than the yearly earnings of the average American family. It is such a staggering amount of money that even if a family makes $150,000 a year—placing them within the wealthiest 5 percent of our nation’s earners—they are still likely to receive some financial assistance.

Further, about half our students come from among the richest 5 percent of Americans. And to change our admissions practices to be economically representative of our nation would add well over $150,000,000 to our annual financial aid budget (a move that would increase our financial aid three-fold). Given its current expenditures, Columbia cannot afford to be economically diverse. For colleges, using race as a proxy for diversity is far less expensive than using race and class.

Elite schools are disproportionately a place for the rich. Unlike the comparably hopeful story about the racial composition of colleges, the class composition of our top colleges is only getting worse. In the last 30 years, the number of students from the poorest 25 percent of American families attending top colleges has held steady at 10 percent. At the same time, the richest 25 percent of American earners are taking up more and more seats.

There is a missing revolution in our nation: one in which poor and average Americans can have a fighting chance of acquiring the kind of education and advantages that elite education provides.

As a regular contributor to GOOD, I will think through the role of elites in our nation and the impact of elite schooling on this process. I encourage you to respond with comments, questions, or critiques. I will try to address them as the series unfolds.

This article was originally published on GOOD.com.