1) Does the author present a clear and focused argument or thesis statement in the introduction? Does it respond to the assignment? 2) Is the author’s reasoning persuasive and well developed? Are the claims supported with appropriate evidence? Are counter-arguments fully considered?
This essay was assigned to be written from the perspective of class matters advocate, and does not necessarily represent the views of the author.
“College is the key to success” is a term that is all too familiar in American society. The belief that one can shape and mold their future by attaining a college degree—regardless of their socioeconomic background—has served as defense to the American ideology of liberty and equal opportunity amongst all. The presumption that a student can easily go from low social status to an elite college campus—through impressive academic achievement, of course—is thought to be true as well. Studies have shown, however, that highly affluent families continue to disproportionately represent the graduating classes of top colleges. In fact, no more than five percent of the least privileged applicants contribute to these elite communities (Weismann, 1).
While social class may not be used purposefully or directly as criteria during the admissions process at elite institutions, it certainly does account for many aspects that make up one’s application. Consequently, social class serves as a dividing factor for those who are admitted and denied to highly ranked institutions. We as the admissions committee at The College subliminally developed a system that included categories favoring affluent children. Perhaps if we created a strategy that evaluated applicants in a fashion similar to Steven’s College, we would have had a more legal process that allowed for more socioeconomic diversity within the admitted class.
Jean Lattimore was an applicant who had decent grades, a long list of extracurricular activities, and sincere recommendations testifying his great work ethic. In one of his letters of recommendation his counselor mentioned how “he stands at the top of his graduating class of 45 peers. Although our district cannot afford to offer as wide a variety of courses as some other schools, Jean has applied himself and made the best of every available opportunity.” Additionally, she noted how Jean had taken a calculus class at the local technical college—proving that he was ready for college level academics despite his school’s lack of resources (Jean Lattimore, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney). Unfortunately, two factors brought Jean’s overall rating down: our system’s “academics” and “legacy” categories. The College decided that it was necessary that he’d be given a lower academic score for his inability to take challenging courses—although this circumstance was out of his control. Furthermore, Jean had no family history (of attendance) at The College which allotted him no additional points to boost his rating in the legacy category. In the end, Jean was denied admission.
In Stevens’ ethnography, he mentioned that his college used the percentage of graduates that went directly to a four-year college from a high school as a way to predict the quality of courses offered at that particular school. At less affluent high schools, students who excelled, despite an adequate curriculum, were still awarded good academic scores (Stevens, 193). If The College had taken this approach, it is possible that Jean may have had a fighting chance of being admitted.
A student who was in the complete opposite situation of Jean was Caitlin Quinn. Caitlin was considered a shoo-in student: her GPA, test scores, and list of extracurricular activities were all solid; not to mention that her family could afford full tuition. On top of the very high scores Caitlin received in the academics and “extracurricular activity” categories, the admissions system also granted her one additional point for having a family legacy at The College (Caitlin Quinn, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney).
In the Supreme Court case Regents of California v. Bakke, it was ruled that it was unconstitutional for race to be used as an advantage in the college admissions process (Regents, 1). As a result, our admissions committee was very conscious about not granting minority students additional points because of their race. Ironically enough, however, The College was in favor of creating a category that specifically awarded an additional point to legacy students. The outcome of this, although we were attempting to provide an equal educational opportunity for all applicants, is an illegal advantage to those of more affluent families, for they have far higher legacy rates than lower class applicants. Just as students do not receive admission advantages because of the color of their skin, shouldn’t students also receive no advantages for familial connections they have at The College? Unfortunately enough, this issue of inequality was completely overlooked by the committee.
Benjamin Rosen, yet another applicant, was a bit of an interesting story during the simulation. Although he attained a relatively low GPA and missed two interviews with college admissions people, The College highly considered admitting him. Thinking that Benjamin was deemed a legacy student because his father is employed by The College, the admissions committee was very hesitant about dropping his file. Once it was clarified that he was not a legacy student, however, his application was unanimously declined admission (Class Lecture).
Stevens mentioned the history of legacy in his study. He notes that “throughout the nineteenth century, educational systems had been local affairs. Colleges competed with other schools in their own cities and regions for the patronage of prominent local families; the degree to which any one school was able to corner the market on local patronage defined the limits of its institutional prestige” (Stevens, 34-5). The “prestige” Stevens referred to coincides with wealth as well (i.e. social status). Without being conscious of this, the admissions team continued the tradition of social class legacy—just as many generations before them had; just as they had used it for their own college applications. The benefit to using high social status as a determining factor in the admissions process is the amount of money The College continuously receives from the affluent families applying. Nonetheless, this issue of legacy, which was a long time contribution to the exclusiveness of elite institutions, is still obviously, a part of the imbalanced admissions system today.
Situations such as the ones that occurred with Jean, Caitlin, and Benjamin lead me to believe that the admissions team did not fully weigh the pros and cons of their applications with regard to their social statuses. The intertwinement of wealth and elite college achievement is a complicated process to undo. It will require the committee to evaluate the students’ socioeconomic status, the kind of high schools the students attended and, in turn, how these two things affect the make-up of each individual application. It is not enough to have a broad category that simplistically labels applicants qualified or underprepared in regard to their course loads(for as we have seen, not all applicants have access to preparatory resources), nor can we defend the decision to add a category that defends students of legacy families and, in turn, high social status. If The College genuinely wishes to increase the amount of socioeconomic diversity amongst its student body, it must be open to the different social classes and academic background students come from. Otherwise, no change will come.
Benjamin Rosen, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney.
Caitlin Quinn, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney.
Class Lecture, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013.
Jean Lattimore, Simulation Applicant Files, Color & Money seminar at Trinity College, Fall 2013, http://commons.trincoll.edu/colorandmoney.
Regents of University of California v. Bakke (1978). Supreme Court. Dec. 2006. Print.
Stevens, Mitchell. Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites. First Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.
Weismann, Jordan. “America’s Top Colleges Have a Rich-Kid Problem.” The Atlantic. 24 May 2013.