'Fair Harvard' -- Who's Here And Why?
(This article was written by Seder form research collected in a two-year project by David Labaree '69 and James Loewen, a 1968 PH.D graduate in Sociology. Copies of the entire original work--of which this is a condensation--are available. Two separate surveys were used for this study: one was random sample of Harvard's 1966-67 undergraduates; the other is the result of ten years of work by the Harvard Student Study Center -- a federally funded office doing computer-analyzed surveys -- which sampled the class of '64 and '65 throughout their years at Harvard).
Not many incoming freshmen know what kind of place Harvard is. Each student had his own idealistic concept of the place he is about to enter. And Harvard's conception of what it should and can be. That conception has an unmistakable reflection in Harvard's student body.
Contrary to popular undergraduate belief, Harvard's most striking feature is not the diversity of its students. In Loewen's study, almost one-half of Harvard's undergraduates said that what they liked most about their college was its supposed diversity. However, former dean of admissions William J. Bender made a prediction seven years ago that revealed why Harvard lacked one vital kind of diversity--economic diversity.
Quoted in the New York Times in late September of 1961, Bender said that the rapidly increasing cost of a Harvard education may eventfully limit enrollment in the college to a small "economic elite."
Cut Off From America
"Unless hereafter the steady stream of tuition increases slows down to what is justified by inflation, Harvard College will have to cut itself off from most of America," Bender said in his annual report for 1959-60.
Bender's prediction is coming true. Student fees have risen $1500 since 1961, and now are $3800 a year. Next term they will rise another $400. To an average citizen earning the national median income of $7400, that is a horrifying amount. Yet according to the Harvard Student Study Center's data most students' families can easily afford Harvard. The median income of student' families is$17,500--or almost 2 and one-half times the national median. For Harvard undergraduates, the average family income is $28,000. The fathers of students here are 84 per cent professional semiprofessional, officials, or proprietors. So the rest of the students--only 16 per cent -- come from the occupational groups that make up 74 per cent of the whole nation.
A Lorentz curve comparing the national income figure to those of Harvard students (and also to the tuition-less City college of New York and the national collegiate average) shows how Harvard's income distributions differs from the rest of the country. A number called the Gini Index shows how unequally the total goods of the nation are divded up among the total population. The most the Gini number can equal is 1. If the number is 1, then the person in question has all the goods in question (in this case, representation in Harvard's student body). For Harvard, the Gini Index is .84. For land-holding in fedual England, the value was .65. This means that Harvard students are a more economically elite group when compared to the whole nation than the landed gentry of medieval England was compared to Britain's population.
What does this really mean and why is this so? Socio-economic factors beyond Harvard's control make education something the poor get less of--fewer poor people are prepared for a college education. More important, they don't even apply to college. This is, however, only one possible explanation for Harvard's elitism. What can be done about it? Should something be done about it?
Harvard states in its financial booklet,
Like many people you may have the idea that Harvard is an impossibly expensive college attended mainly by wealthy students. This is a common enough idea, but it is not true.
At least in part, this statement is true, as shown by the figures. The lower economic half of the country's families usually won't bother trying to meet the costs representing two and one-half years' earnings. Harvard's reply is that almost anyone can attend if he is accepted (i.e., "has the ability). This is an important claim for it states that once applications are in, once socio-economic factors have done their work and it's Harvard's turn, the process is a meritocracy. The Admissions Office has basked up this statement. The only way to test it is to look at the applicant group as a whole, ad to compare those who came to those who didn't.
Only those rated by the Admissions Department as at least a "Bogie 3" were sampled. These were the ones with a good chance of being admitted. This made the sample group of students who did not come as close a match as possible to those who then came. The Harvard Student Study Center data for the class of 1965 shows these applicants who did not come, had a significantly lower median and mean income than those who came. Three times as many non-attenders were below the $7,500 national median, while only one-half as many non-attenders were above $20,000 as opposed to those who came.
Perhaps even more revealing are the figures for those non-attenders who were accepted at their first choice, Harvard, but did not come. Seventy per cent of those specifically listed financial reasons as the reason. Fifty per cent of non-attenders had family incomes below $10,000 (of those who came $50 per cent were above $20,000) and 18.5 per cent were below $7,500 (as opposed to 5 per cent for those who came). The people in this group went to school like Stanford, Princeton, Yale, Carleton, or Duke and mostly had scholarships. It seems that $3,800 a year is even a substantial problem for the middle class.
Fees may be only one of many barriers to Harvard, but they are a very real barrier. Harvard claims that 50 per cent of the students receive aid. What does this mean when of the bottom fiscal half of the Harvard class 19 per cent are above $15,000, about 40 per cent are above $10,000? The vast majority of Harvard's bottom half, the half that receives aid, is in the nation's upper half.
The previously quoted Times article stated, "Although there has been an 'almost fantastic increase' in financial aid resources during the last ten years, no significant gains were made in lowering the economic barrier to a Harvard education."
The mean income of students on scholarships according to the Financial Aid Office is $9,200, 23 per cent above the national mean. Labaree's study concluded.
Therefore, to state that an increasing percentage of Harvard undergraduates is receiving gradually larger scholarship stipends is not by any means t imply that as a result the student body is becoming more heterogeneous from a class point of view.
The trend is the other way. Bender said in 1961, "We now have a much larger proportion of middle and upper-middle income candidates but have lost ground relatively, and probably absolutely, among the really low income families."
The President's Reports for '61-62 to '65-65 show the basic fees have risen faster than the average stipend size and thus the proportion of the bill paid by scholarships has gone down, not up. since then fees have risen 25 per cent and total aid, including loans, rose 84 per cent, but the trends are about the same.
As a sidelight it is important to remember that the country's lower economic half includes a large majority of blacks. so the economic barrier takes on racial undertones. And despite "backbreaking efforts to get Negroes," Newsweek (April 22) listed Harvard as getting fewer entering blacks next year than fourteen other selected colleges, including Yale and Princeton. Harvard had ten more blacks than the black percentage was 4.6, the lowest whole it is 3.6 per cent. The Dean of Admissions replied that when Harvard accepts blacks, the blacks come. So in fact, they get more than other Ivy League schools. But 3.6 per cent is still very small.
What Does It Mean?
What does all this mean? Is Harvard responsible? Is al this so partly because of Harvard's policies, conscious or unconscious? We have to start by looking at Harvard's admission process.
Alumni sons and prep school graduates receive a decided preference. Before explaining why it's a "preference" and not just an "advantage" let's take a look at that group.
Twenty per cent of every class are alumni sons. Bender commented that prep schools. Bender commented that this reflected the belief that "in this too rootless world inheritance and nurture mean money." Yet inheri- tance and nurture mean more than money. A qualified applicant doesn't come out of a wallet. A good family, cultural background and an excellent education mean a great deal beyond academic credentials.
What exactly does a prep school education mean in terms of activities and performance at Harvard? To compare preppies and pubbies (public school graduates) we can use the exhaustive data of the Harvard Student Body Center. The data is slightly misleading because "elite" public schools such as Newton High are thrown in with the other public schools. Boston area public schools like Newton receive the same preferential treatment as prep schools. This tends to reduce the statistical gap between pubbies and preppies.
According to the Harvard Student Study Center's survey pubbies study significantly more the first year, though this difference lessens through the years. There is almost no difference between the two groups in time spent on extracurricular activities. Whereas pubbies major primarily in Physical Sciences, preppies are almost exclusively in Humanities.
Harvard states it Judges academic ability mainly on two criteria, CEEB board scores and the school record. Fifty per cent of Harvard sons score below 650 on the verbal SAT as compared to 18 per cent of the others. Forty-six per cent of the preppies scored below 650 while only 12 per cent of the others did. In Loewen's Sample 61 per cent of the alumni sons fell below Group 3 compared with 32 per cent of the others. For preppies the trend was weaker but still obvious. Nineteen pre cent were Group 2 as compared with 20 per cent of the others 41 per cent fell below Group 3 as opposed to 34 per cent of the others.
The Harvard Student Study Center shows that 34 per cent of the pubbies were first in their high school class, 73 per cent in the top five. And many public school classes are very large, some running into the thousands. A large majority of preppies were not in the top 20 per cent of their classes (not counting Andover and Exeter because they send about 50 students each and their data would be meaningless to this statistic).
A high official in the Admissions Department stated that the SAT verbal was he best predictor of performance. He also commented that fifty points showed a significant difference in intelligence unless the two educational situations had been very different for the boys tested.
The median boards were: Pubbies--708, Preppies--659, Andover and Exeter--700 (SAT). This is very important. If the two groups were of the same intelligence, the ones with the much better preparation should score higher than, or at least as high as the others. Yet at Harvard Preppies are the ones who score lower. Whether or not they are really less intelligent, judging by Harvard's criteria, they are indeed less intelligent. They may be smarter, but they aren't showing it according to Harvard's indicators. What about narture and inheritance? It has not made them as impressive academically. It is only through long contact with Harvard that by their senior year the preppies do almost as well as the pubbies. Also, the median predicted rank group for preppies is 3.6 as compared to the Dean's List 2.9 for pubbies. This is especially significant because predicted performance ratings for students are based partly on past performance of students with the same type of education. The predictions show Harvard knows from past experience that the pubbies it admits will do better than the preppies it prefers (although preppies with poor undergraduate records often go on to do very well in graduate schools).
One explanation for this might be that just not enough to get into the Harvard bracket. Considering that the underrepresented income groups outnumber the privileged (i.e., Harvard income) in the population by about 7 to 1 in absolute numbers, the total scoring above 650 could be at least the same. The median preppie family income was approximately $26,000: that of the pubbies, $17,00: the mean for preppies was $45,000; for pubbies, $32,000. The preppie median according to Loewen's survey is three and one-half times the national median and 56 per cent higher than the rest of Harvard undegraduates. The data also show that scholarships are almost exclusively a public school phenomenon.
We have shown that a change in the student body toward a lower income average need not lower the quality of the university academically. Harvard offers two reasons for the present situation. First, economic considerations force Harvard to get a certain percentage who can pay their fees in full. This reason would disappear if it could be shown that Harvard does not need the funds from tuition, a topic to be taken up in a future CRIMSON feature page. The second reason is "inheritance and nurture." The present Dean of Admissions states "we turn down many 800's. He wanted interesting and varied people. (Which 800's usually got turned down? Those from Choate?) This implies preppies are more "interesting and varied people."
In his article in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin (9-20-61) entitled "The Top-One-Per-Cent Policy; A Hard Look at the Dangers of an Academically Elite Harvard," Bender states:
Harvard is one of the few colleges in this country which can, if necessary, fill a large entering class with able students in the present range of ability, roughly three-quarters of whom can finance their college education without scholarship help from Harvard. I belive that we can continue to do this provided we don't raise the present academic level too much and do maintain our relationship with the private schools and the Harvard family. It seems unlikely to me that we can bring this off if we adopt a top-one per cent policy with all that would imply for the relationship, atmosphere, and appeal of the college....
Harvard's wealth has come out of a special mixture of gentlemen and scholars with the gentlemen, for whatever reason, giving of their substance to support the scholar, The eighty-two plus million raised for the Program for Harvard College did not come to any significant degree from the scholars, the summas, and the Phi Beta Kappas.
Bender also said, "We ought to think before eliminating such