What's Wrong With Students -- A Summary

Harvard's student body is not diverse in some very important ways. It is weighted towards upper and upper-middle class incomes. This is due partly to forces we don't like to admit exist in America. But beyond the unavoidable forces of socio-economic realities there are specific policies of Harvard, both conscious and unconscious, which perpetuate this situation.

Some of the forces protecting the status quo are: 1) high fees, 2) inadequate scholarship programs, and 3) conscious admissions policies which act to preserve Harvard's financial and influential position and keep producing leaders of the country. This amounts to what Labaree called "an avowed orientation toward the goal of the education of the ruling class of tomorrow, whom it recognizes largely as the sons of the ruling class of today.

The first argument--high fees--Labaree said, "is based on the assertion that Harvard's is caught in a financial squeeze which means that it must accept largely people who can pay for their education now and can support the university in the future." But really the endowment makes fee increases unnecessary, in fact fees could be permanently eliminated. The University of Pittsburgh, when it started receiving applications from valedictorians of little town high schools it had never heard from before (said Dean of Admission, Chase Peterson). A less expensive Harvard would also attract a more economcially diverse student body.

Fees have not been eliminated because 1) the university claims it cannot afford to do so, 2) sheer conservatism as recently criticized by Kingman Brewster of Yale, 3) the stated policy of not being a meritocracy, but favoring prep schools and alumni so as to get potential leaders and financial backing for the future. The high fees help hide this policy by discouraging many applications from coming in. That prevents their ever having to be judged academically. Beyond even that the data shows Harvard is not a meritocracy.

The present concept of the University's purpose and the idea of a poor University are reinforcing each other in a misleading way. The idea of "poverty of he College" protects one from having to deal with other issues concerning the admissions policy. It prevents re-evaluation of the education-for-elite philosophy. This is not simply that it would be best if Harvard's percentage of each income group exactly matched the nation's. The hidden essenial issue is he purpose and meaning of a private university, and who it should therefore recruit. You know Harvard's present answer to this question. Do you like the answer? Are there better ones? Are they basically correct and yet is there too much preference shown to preppies and alumni sons? I think this last is the right idea. The semi-unintentional result is institutionalized class bias being aided and perpetuated by conscious policies which could be changed.

Harvard is not so different from other private universities with respect to class homogenity. What is different about Harvard is that it alone is in a position to do something about he forces it says it must relucantly acknowledge. Dropping tuition is a step. Education is one of the most crucial necessities for career opportunity, especially for upward class mobility, in our society. If education becomes so aristocratic, if it is left behind so high a barrier, we are not living up to our platitudes about the virtues of American Democracy or the meaning of an education.

It is not that nothing is being done now, but rather that much much more could and should be done if, as Loewen said, "Harvard's imagination could be stirred to do so."