Getting into Harvard. The American dream, and other things you need millions for
You can’t ignore the increasing crossover and interconnectedness of Academics and Economics. The relationship between these two are becoming increasingly publicized as mirror images or exclusively linked, but not in the ways you’d think.
The stronger your financial position, the higher the chances you’ll get into an ‘elite’ education institution. The more ‘elite’ institution, the greater the chance you’ll really achieve wealth/status. Many writers have explored this phenomenon; however, none more influential than Ron Unz’s latest article “The Myth of American Meritocracy.”
The article reveals the incredible extent that socio-economical strength dictates ‘success’ under the facade of elite academics to drive the now perceived illusion of work effect and the American Dream. Ron Unz exposes, however frightfully, that it’s not meritocracy being rewarded by seemingly high levels of education and therefore social success, but simple politics and economics. Admissions into universities is not a race for premier student selection of the brightest, most highly trained, and highly disciplined students on the planet, but rather a hand-picked demographic unbelievably slanted toward finances and political background.
This current covert system and policies only perpetuate and further establish what is a modern day cast system furthering the economic divide and perpetuating the social elitism. Distribution of wealth and its perpetuation links universities to further lope-siding the status quo while hiding behind the idea of a ‘well rounded individual.’
‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’ reveals prejudices in methodology of following trends, mountains, and valleys of the discriminated minorities of their time.
Harvard’s endowment is now over 30 billion dollars and the Admissions Department that gives such huge support to squash, rowing, and legacy members does nothing but perpetuate the ‘education’ of the best to keep investing in their future. The higher the social capital the better!
Private tutoring, entry fees in sports clubs, prep testing, entrance into private boarding schools, and high end resources go a long way in supplying a better advantage for admissions. Unz also says “its nice if your dad plays polo with the Admissions Director.”
I’ve always thought America truly has a university for everyone. But unfortunately it’s also becoming increasingly apparent that each individual should only strive to small measures higher than their current social status.
To me, the article and the American education system has a mix of ‘the death of the American Dream,’ the rise of neo-liberalism, and the illusion of how this all makes sense. Ivy Leagues seemingly deal in capital. Initially, Unz describes that Harvard dealt purely in academic capital but this obviously has drastically shifted. It now reflects less importance on academics and more on human, social, and economic capital than ever. ‘Does wealth dictate education or education dictate wealth?’ It seems that Unz isn’t confused.
A further example of this is seen in Mike Russel’s Massive Open Online Revenue Generating Entities, which talks about how elite colleges prioritize status over economics and as admissions reveal this isn’t done through academics.
“Elite colleges are ultimately in the business of maximizing status, not revenue. Spending a lot of money on things that return a lot of status isn’t just feasible for these institutions—it’s their basic operating principle.”
American society has similarly made the dream of achieving these institutions beyond the reach of ‘us’ mere peasants.
Who Stole the American Dream? “Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Hedrick Smith reveals a series of events and decisions that have contributed to today’s disparity in wealth and political power. The country is divided sharply and extremely by money, by political power, and by ideology. We have enormous, gaping inequalities of income. And along with that, we have exaggerated and unequal political power exercised by corporate America and by the wealthy, particularly between elections, through masses of lobbyists working in Washington.”
Couldn’t agree more. There is now a huge divide between the have and have-nots which only appears to be getting wider. It no longer appears that education is for all.
In Australia, the crossover and interconnectedness exists in particularly with students from Asian countries. That’s where the real wealth is in this part of the world.
I do not think the USA is the only country where this is the case.
Really interesting read!
Great insights! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Its a sad realisation that education, the greatest opportunity a man/woman can have in achieving their dreams is in actual fact only a dream for most because of the above mentioned factors.
Capitalism relies on having a compliant workforce who are willing to work hard to make the few who own the means of production richer still. Best way to keep the masses in line is to keep them ill-educated, misinformed and in debt.
A very realistic post. I’m in one of those colleges that wants to be “the Harvard of Midwest”. There is a great book that offers insights into how the Harvard elitism came about: http://www.theinnovativeuniversity.com. I think the problem that some universities have in their DNA is chasing after what is seen as ‘cool’ by the public rather than fulfilling their mission. I totally agree that some universities are meant for “lower casts” and it perpetuates socio-economic gaps. Perhaps, if they shift their focus from chasing after the big sharks (“the Harvard of the Midwest”, “the Berkley of Ohio”, “the Purdue of Omaha”, etc.) to innovating their operation, the situation may change. Instead of helping students outperform the elite college kids, my university “meets them where they are” and kindly leaves them on about the same level till they graduate. The effort is put into attracting external research money and promoting our average athletic teams. The book that I mentioned is about beating the chance of getting ahead in life by going to an elite school, and this requires way more ingenuity than simply modeling Harvard.
I think the problem within the US higher education system relates to one of your previous posts, “Education: Cost or Quality.” This type of problem does not stop after the secondary school level. From an early age, American children are told that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything you’d like (attending Harvard being one of them). Following from this, there is a stigma that it’s not about quality of work but quantity: it doesn’t matter if you are actually a well-rounded individual as long as you appear to be on a college application. We have traded intelligence, character, and integrity for the illusion of such traits. In addition to this, we have the problem of socioeconomic barriers. a last name, social standing, and economic advantages are abound in the higher education system in the US. The overarching problem is it is a product of institutional design: we have molded the system to be most responsive to those at the higher ends of the socioeconomic ladder, disregarding (or at the very least, making them secondary) the real measures of academic potential. The only real solution is to change the mindset in respect to education. It should be about wanting to learn, not getting a piece of paper that saying a person is “intelligent” (this is where we should take lessons from countries like Finland). However, changing that mindset in the US, where long gone are the days where astronauts, scientists, and professors where the ones who received significant public attention, is extremely difficult.