Julie Park on what's driving white upper-middle class kids to schools like Alabama
As a Bridge Black, I say "No thank you." It is EXHAUSTING. As I told the white parents at my daughter's former elementary school here in liberal Brooklyn, Black and Brown people aren't here to provide a diverse educational experience for your children.
"I would love to see people be more open about how most students aren’t at an elite college because of their own efforts, but because of a combination of effort, opportunity, and privilege, with privilege having both individual and structural-level dimensions. Of course it’s awkward to draw attention to how structural forces have facilitated your success, but it’s also necessary to pull back the curtain on the forces that enabled your success."
This is *SO* well put -- not to get too off-topic, but I often think about the above in relation to certain highly prestigious and/or low-paying "passion" jobs. Like, congratulations on your debut novel, but what I really want to know is who/what supported you in that time-and-energy consuming, UNPAID endeavor: did you write on evenings/weekends after you got home from your 9-to-5? Did you get to be on your spouse's health insurance, or do you live in a home your parents financed/own and not have to pay rent? Did you secure some kind of fellowship funding (and what advantages did you have in that contest)? Same idea with start-ups. Who or what supported you before your business turned a profit? Where did your funding come from?
I guess in general (and maybe it's unbecoming of me!) I find it really frustrating how reluctant accomplished people often are to admit to their economic privilege. This idea of meritocracy and wanting everyone to think that your success comes from your own aptitude and "hard work," and bootstrapping, when in reality that's only one (maybe small!) piece of the puzzle is, I think, really misleading and discouraging for folks who then think they're "not good enough" because they lack advantages they don't even know you had. And that kids (they are kids!!) have to navigate this dynamic just to get into college...ugh, what a mindfuck.
As a parent to white upper middle class kids who have ancestors with lots of letters after their last name and who is deeply invested in the equity conversation...
I have thoughts
1...My kids' education at their supposedly awesome white Cleveland suburbs school is a joke. My 9th grader is doing 6th grade worksheets. They are asking questions like how did the native Americans benefit from westward expansion and the word "genocide" is not in the curriculum. How on EARTH is this kid gonna cope when he has to write an actual history paper in college?
2...I have gone to name brand schools, community college, my terminal degree is from UGA and I am an adjunct at a Very Big Name University in a masters degree program. I went to a very average, very white HS in Fairfield County CT and graduated in the early 90s. I have seen a lot of educational institutions. And frankly many of my students who went to state schools as out of state students are simply more in debt. My students who have name brand educations are usually better writers and are more at ease with the idea that I make them start with blank pieces of paper and vague directions (which frankly, is life). All of them have this idea that I should tell them exactly what to do to get an A. On every assignment. And they are petrified of getting it wrong even though I allow unlimited rewrites...which is also life in my particular subject area.
3. No way in hell am I paying for a 4 year degree before my kids prove themselves at community college. To me, it is actually what I got in HS. Happily a lot of places have co-enrollment with the local CC when you are in HS. Spending family resources for a traditional college experience seems like something that is mostly serving the parents?
4. I suspect it is up to parents like me to let our little darlings be mediocre. This idea that college is the great equalizer has little merit. My boys are gonna ahead because they are white and upper middle class and my daughter is gonna have to work twice as hard to get into a school half as "good" because she is white and upper middle class (see this weekend's NYT and everything @Richard Reeves writes).
Time to chuck it in the %$#@ it bucket. Meritocracy is a joke and has allowed trillions of wealth transfer upwards. I refuse to participate any more than I have to.
Our current system simply allows all the advantages of a college education to coagulate on the people who already have all the advantages
I'm not sure if you can have this discussion without talking about the University of Michigan and the northeast, because my impression is that UM started targeting rich kids from the NYC area 35+ years ago, was incredibly successful, and built the template for this strategy (and put UM so far down this road that people don't even remark on it anymore). UM enrolls roughly half its class from out of state and charges tuition that's basically the same as a high-end private. This has been true since at least the early aughts when I was applying and it was conventional wisdom that the story was (1) Michigan used to be a rich state and built a fancy public university (look at all these gothic buildings!) (2) then the economy collapsed (see, e.g., Detroit) so state funding collapsed and the University ]adopted the business model of the Ivy League (but sells it as more fun because it's a big school with a good football team etc.). Fast forward a few decades and now there are tons of UM grads in elite NY/NJ etc. circles (they also invested in their law school etc., which ranks up with the elite privates and gives them a second shot at those networks). There are a lot of wealthy NYC families on their second generation of sending kids to Ann Arbor.
The reason that UM did this is very well told (it might even be true), but the story of the students has always been the more interesting piece to me. I went to a well regarded prep school in the early aughts and UM was one of a handful of publics that were always on our radar (UVA, Berkley, and UCLA were the others, also UVM for stoners--Phish, very popular at my high school). I've always had the impression that this was all downstream of the Ivies getting much more competitive--the comment from the Dartmouth alum above was pretty revealing to me. In the 60s my high school would have sent *most* of our grads to Ivies or elite SLACS, but those days were long gone and then (and now) schools like mine brag about getting 15%-20% of their class into those schools.
That created a huge opportunity for other schools to enroll a bunch of rich kids who had just been through a pretty rigorous college prep curriculum. The next tier of privates (Tufts, WashU, BC, etc.) stepped in to capitalize in a big way and have been very successful at doing so, but local publics were totally unprepared to serve that constituency. NY and NJ publics had a terrible reputation at the time so affluent families barely considered them (this was the era when NJ seemed to give up on Rutgers altogether and rebrand TCNJ as an elite local option--I think they've revered course and are now trying to turn Rutgers New Brunswick into a midwest-style flagship; to this day there are fierce debates as to which of the SUNY campuses is the "good one," officially I think it's both Buffalo and Albany, but Stony Brook and Binghamton also have partisans). I think this is a legacy of the dynamic I mentioned before, local rich kids mostly went to Ivies so there was never any need to build an elite public, but it created a giant market opportunity and UM seems to me like it was the first public to capitalize. And now you can get UM alumni license plates in both NY and NJ:
UA and others are clearly moving into the market, but they've got a long way to go to get to "alumni license plate available six states away" levels of success in this game. (Also, more relevantly, UM is charging the out of staters 65k in tuition and then another 15k in room and board while UA is cutting out of state students deals on tuition.)
One interesting point that is, I think, alluded to here but overlooked: NY's state university system lacks prestige, and that is a huge driver of those kids, particularly, going out of state (from an UM C background). SUNY has great schools, but they have zero name recognition, and for someone who can pay full freight, that feels like a poor tradeoff compared to sending their kid to an OSU, UMD, etc., where those powerful alum networks exist, plus the other things that replicate the college experiences of their parents or the idealized version they want their kids to experience (football, Greek life, campuses that are lovely and historic).
That's been true since I was growing up in these suburbs of NYC 20+ years ago, and it's even more true now, if only based on the published college committments of our local seniors.
So many great points in this interview. Suburban Boston UMC parent whose son is at University of Maryland. He went to a STEM high school, and one of the best pieces of advice that his guidance counselors gave his class was to look beyond Massachusetts for colleges to increase your chance of being accepted. The pool of graduating seniors in any given year in Massachusetts is very strong. He is a smart kid, but didn't have exceptional grades. We don't qualify for financial aid, but in our minds, the value UMD offers for out-of-state tuition is excellent. It's a top-notch school, and for his major, top 10 nationwide.
I appreciate the insight into Southern Greek life - the socioeconomics and culture of it all. It makes my and my family's hair stand on end. The privilege and selectivity reminds me of the eating clubs at Princeton, where I spent many years as a financially struggling graduate student.
The benefit to the universities for out-of state students seems akin to how private colleges and universities love international students who pay tuition in full.
I love that this interview came from a UMD professor. When I was getting accepted into colleges in 2013, I applied to UMD because it was my state school. In theory, I definitely should have gotten in, but UMD was fond of the partial rejection at the time (they may still do this!) where they reject you for fall semester, but accept you for spring semester. You are actually still welcome to take classes in the fall, but you can’t live on campus and you have no access to a meal plan or anything like that. We speculated back then that it was because they were trying to admit more out-of-state students, and lo and behold! That seems to be the case! Really fascinating interview here. Thanks AHP!
Something that's stuck in my head since reading about Southern schools' out of state recruitment is this article: https://www.kqed.org/science/1983772/college-bound-californians-prepare-for-rocky-reproductive-health-landscape-away-from-home
(tl dr, Black kids from California are getting long-acting birth control before heading to HBCUs in the South with restrictive state-level abortion policies)
Are the affluent white kids heading to Bama doing the same, with this level of frankness? Or do they and their parents assume they can come home easily enough if they have an unwanted pregnancy? I'm guessing the latter but I wonder if this kind of preparation is happening in this demographic as well. Is it a topic of conversation amongst parents?
I don’t have a subscription anymore, but the NYT published a really eye opening upshot piece maybe 7-8 years ago using tax record data to analyze how much money student’s parents made for universities across the country and how much of their student body was in the top 1%, 10%, 25%. I went to UIUC as an in state student. It had a pretty high amount of wealthy kids 50% students from top 20%, mainly north shore and west suburb kids. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as UMichigan. I found the article: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/01/18/upshot/some-colleges-have-more-students-from-the-top-1-percent-than-the-bottom-60.html
[Anecdote related to that nyt report: I come from a very wealthy background - I know, not cool to admit on AHP substack or anywhere really. I looked at University of Colorado Boulder, CSU, UDenver, Colorado College because I was obsessed w living in Colorado at the time. One of my parent’s friends ran into us at the Denver airport after visiting schools there. He said, “Oh, at Colorado College you can split the student body by which are from the 1% vs the rest.” It was similar at UDenver. The more I thought about it the more I couldn’t stomach going to school being in a bubble like that. I didn’t want my parents paying what was like $60k a year at the time for having mountains in the background and ski trips on weekends and being with a bunch of other wealthy kids. Colorado College had like 25% per that report students from 1% families which is nuts.]
That report might have also included % students who went to public high schools vs private vs home schooled. The % at Ivy league is nuts compared to even selective land grant public schools like the big state schools.
Malcolm Gladwell, who I know over simplifies things and irritates academics and is viewed as blase in some circles, had a really excellent podcast episode about university’s outcomes in terms of income brackets. He compared two universities, one that prioritized enrolling lower income students and the other that pursued wealthy students and poured money into expensive amenities like gourmet food in the cafeteria. https://omny.fm/shows/revisionist-history/food-fight
It really pushed me to think about if I have kids in the future that university choices can have a social justice component. No one lives in a vacuum.
I'm a parent of a recent college grad (from a smaller offshoot of a Big 10 school, not Greek) and a current college Junior (Big 10 school, Greek) so college admissions and Greek life is my zone right now. My husband and I also attended different Big 10 schools and were Greek in the mid 80s.
I'm originally from Chicago, so OSU is popular there, and we had our current Junior apply (as a backup, sorry). It wasn't really 'known' in our state, he was the only one of his friends applying, although this year 4-5 boys we know are going there. They gave a good amount of money, but he really wanted the school he chose, which was also out of state, and gave a tiny amount, which was better than nothing. We don't qualify for aid, which is appropriate.
My a friend who still lives in a fancy North Shore suburb of Chicago has been telling me for YEARS about how many kids go South because of the money they are given, that it's practically in state rates, although travel and Greek life bring the costs back up.
My Junior's school has also become more East Coast over the years, due to the popularity of one of the majors (not Madison or Michigan, which were always popular on the East Coast), and although I don't think it's affected him socially, some of the fraternities have definitely changed from Midwest based to East Coast based. I'm trying to be a little vague, lol.
And I've said before, but being Jewish also makes me side eye some of the Southern schools, even though I know there are plenty of Jews in the South and at these schools. I do remember a friend telling me that when she was in college in the South in the 80s, she didn't rush because the house she wanted "already had their Jewish girl". And someone commented previously that my sorority, SDT, doesn't participate in rush at UA, I assume because it's predominately Jewish and rushes are not.
I grew up in a tiny midwestern town, was a first generation college student, and went to a community college for two years before transferring because my parents didn’t have the financial resources to help me with college.(Which was fine, it was the mid-90s and while I felt like I carried a lot of debt from school, it was NOTHING compared to what people carry today. And I think I valued my eduction more because I was paying for it, I was highly motivated to finish my undergrad in four years.) I do not have kids. Reading essays like this reminds me about how little I know about this other world. I’m also reminded of something pointed out in the article, how these sorts of systems continue to reinforce economic - and racial - hierarchies and what the consequences of that are. Lots to chew on this Sunday morning.
I have a question that jumped out at me as I was reading this post, although my thoughts are not well-formed, so forgive me. All of this out-of-state recruiting, does this have any ulterior motives as related to voting? I know I’ve read things about troubles related to college IDs, where a college student is allowed to vote... if colleges are actively recruiting like this (and it’s working), how does it bode for these kids being able to vote in various elections? Does it make it more complicated? Impossible? Etc...
This train of articles has been weirdly applicable in my life. I work for the University of Georgia and have since 2012....the bewildering shift, especially in the past 3 years to accommodate the influx of wealthy students (well, students with wealthy moms and dads) has been weird to watch. What's worse is that I primarily work with the post-grad crowd (grad students, postdocs, med/vet students, etc) who most definitely cannot afford the pricy student housing (now with dog spas! AHP should look into the new line of student property amenities, it's a trip).
On the other hand of this....I'm a B.S and PhD grad from West Virginia University. Yes, they of the "lets-nuke-the-humanities-because-really-do-they-make-that-much-money-anyway?" fame. So I'm bouncing between "dog-spa-levels of wealth" at UGA, and McSweeny's joke articles about academic penny pinching at WVU.
What a strange time to be an academic.
This was so good!
One thing I think is important to add for context is that the decision for public schools to increase their out of state enrollment didn't just come from no where or because there are a bunch of greedy administrators trying to make more money... it's a direct result of state legislatures scaling (sometimes dramatically) the amount of state investment in higher education. State funding of public higher ed is down everywhere (but worse in red states) and public universities get slammed for trying to raise tuition on in-state students (they still do, but many legislatures will limit their ability to increase tuition more than a few percentage points a year) but nobody raises an alarm about increasing costs for out of state students. Recruiting more out of state students is a pragmatic (though not unproblematic) response to systematic state disinvestment in higher ed.
Also, it is worth remembering that most colleges admit most of their applicants, most of the time. We focus a disproportionate amount of our media coverage and parental angst on the schools that are largely outliers in their selectivity.
Fascinating conversation. At my daughter’s orientation at University of Oregon half the auditorium was from California. Apparently “UC Oregon” is how they’re referring to UO now. I guess they’re flocking (hehe) to UO because getting accepted at UC schools is nearly impossible, even as a community college transfer. UC Santa Cruz is my alma mater but there’s no way I’d get accepted now.
One thing that’s interesting to me about UA (and I’m curious about Auburn’s numbers as the other big state school) versus UGA, where 82% of the class of 2023 are in state students, is the role that the state lottery has played on admissions. When I went to college at UGA the HOPE Scholarship was brand new. It ensured that any high school senior with a 3.0 who got in to a state school could attend tuition free as long as they maintained a 3.0. The standards have changed now--it’s harder to get and I’m not sure it’s as generous--but my understanding is that it’s largely responsible for propelling UGA into the status of respected flagship academic institution like UVA, UM, and UNC. And it also ensured a diverse and largely in state population. I grew up 15 minutes from the Alabama border and I remember when Alabama was voting on a lottery in maybe 2000 or 2002 (it failed) and the pro lottery group ran an ad with students sitting around wearing UGA gear saying “thank you, Alabama!” because of all the Alabama residents who bought tickets that funded the educations of Georgia residents.