Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.A big thing that is going on is how clawing your way up the ladder of education keeps getting more complex, which gives kids from families with their acts together a bigger advantage. I know a few families with kids in high school where Dad, say, recently retired in his mid-fifties from a career making six to seven figures annually, while Mom is a former Chief Financial Officer or law partner who became a stay-at-home mom when she had her second child at 41. They tend to be very nice people and they also tend to be very, very hard to compete with at readying kids for success. But at least I get tips from them. For example, one of them recently told me how big a check you have to write to Harvard to move your kid up from Waiting List to Accepted. Not that that's a very relevant bit of advice for me, but it was definitely interesting to find out.
This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualification.
What we've seen in America is the emergence of a Winner's Class of people who, while they may endorse in general all the 1960s changes, don't actually follow them themselves. They don't have a child out of wedlock, but they do get married, they stay married, and the wife often downshifts her career to invest more time in her children and her husband's career.
For kids growing up in broken families, well, lots of luck. For example, the spread of the online Common Application for most colleges would seem to make things easier. But the side effect is that it vastly increases the number of applicants per college, so acceptance rates drop. So, you need to be aware of this change over the last decade, and stop listening to traditional advice about applying to four to six colleges. Instead, assume you have to Go Large. Budget at least $1,000 for application filing fees.
Similarly, in Los Angeles, there are all sorts of special public school programs that are pretty good, but the way they keep out the unwashed masses is by making the application process counterintuitive — the key to get your kid into the magnet school of your choice in middle school is that you need to make sure he gets turned down by magnet programs in grade school in order to build up compensatory points, but if he gets accepted, then you've shot your wad, so it's crucial to apply initially at elementary magnets where the odds are low of acceptance. Got that? The only way we ever figured it out for our second son was because he was on a baseball team where all the other mothers sat around in the stands talking about the magnet school application process.
When I was a kid, my parents never once attended my baseball games. In a Steven Spielberg movie, this would condemn them as the worst parents of all time, but they didn't want to put pressure on me. And that was A-OK with me, since I mostly struck out, wandered around lost under fly balls in right field, and got picked off. My parents didn't feel the need to socialize with other baseball parents because, amazing as it might seem to 21st Century parents, they had friends of their own with whom they got together for reasons that had nothing to do with their children. Life then was like a less salacious version of Mad Men.