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Evan Mandery ’89 Says Elite Colleges Increase Social Inequality at Harvard PBHA Talk

The Phillips Brooks House is located at 1 Harvard Yard in Cambridge.
The Phillips Brooks House is located at 1 Harvard Yard in Cambridge. By Aiyana G. White
By Elizabeth Peng and Samantha D. Wu, Contributing Writers

Evan J. Mandery ’89, a professor at the City University of New York, said that elite colleges and universities exacerbate social inequality in the United States during a talk on Monday at the Phillips Brooks House Association.

Mandery, who published his book “Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us” in 2022, opened the event by discussing data about the impact of wealth in elite college admissions. Throughout the talk, Mandery repeatedly cited data from a paper published over the summer by Harvard Economics professor Raj Chetty ’00.

According to Mandery, Chetty’s data showed that students who attend “Ivy-Plus colleges” — a group of universities that include the University of Chicago, MIT, Stanford University, and Duke University, as well as Ivy League schools — have disproportionate access to careers that push them into the “top one percent.”

During the event, Mandery said that “Ivy-Plus colleges” do not admit the extent of their roles in exacerbating inequality.

“The case I want to make to you is that elite colleges are driving the system much more than they care to remember,” he said.

In a slideshow presentation prepared for the event, Mandery highlighted data from Chetty’s paper showing that more than 60 percent of Harvard graduates immediately went on to work in the finance, consulting, or technology industries. In contrast, fewer than three percent of Harvard graduates pursued careers in education, and less than five percent worked in public service or for nonprofits.

“Harvard and Yale are acting as basically the exclusive gatekeepers to professions that set the national agenda,” Mandery said.

“We have colleges of the rich that produce our investment bankers and management consultants, and we have colleges of the poor that produce our policemen and teachers,” he added.

In his talk, Mandery also outlined critiques of the current college admissions process, citing barriers in access to standardized test preparation and inequality in school support systems.

Mandery said that the criteria elite colleges use for admissions — like grades and standardized test scores — are highly subjective.

“Nobody said ‘thou must accept the SAT as a criterion for admission,’” Mandery said. “The SAT is principally a proxy for wealth.”

Kashish Bastola ’26, a student affiliated with PBHA who attended the event, said that Harvard should look to recruit from schools that have not historically sent many students to the University.

“The elite prep schools in our country like Andover, Exeter, and Dalton — those schools, they get enough spots at our institution,” Bastola said. “So how do we instead turn to communities where Harvard has never had a presence in those communities and how do we build relationships there?”

Mandery also proposed that elite institutions could help combat inequality by redirecting their donors to schools that are comparatively underfunded, pointing to his own institution — a public college in New York City — as a prime example.

According to Mandery, a $350 million donation to John Jay of Criminal Justice at CUNY “would be enough to fund free tuition for a quarter of our student population.”

“It would be life changing for tens of thousands of people,” he added.

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