And yet the members of my wealthy, majority-white town, and the parents of kids from other wealthy, majority-white towns I visited as an admissions counselor, were far more worried about race-conscious affirmative action policies that aim to increase the numbers of underrepresented races in college student bodies.
It’s long since driven me nuts that so many white middle- and upper-middle-class people who oppose affirmative action can look at a news story like Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paying $500,000 to get their daughters into USC as crew recruits, even though they didn’t row crew, and fail to see a clear and distinct connection to the legal, socially acceptable ways wealthier people will stop at nothing to get their children into elite American schools.
But it wasn’t until I saw hundreds of applications cross my desk that I realized how much the deck is stacked against poor students, particularly poor students of color.
That year, I got into an argument with someone from my hometown whose daughter was applying for college that year.
He knew what I knew: that white girls who played sports and got good grades and lived in the Northeast were pretty much a dime a dozen at most of the country’s elite schools; she was an incredible student, athlete, and person, but it’s true that she didn’t really stand out.
Since male students are applying to colleges at historically low rates, colleges are trying to attract more of them to even out the gender balance in their student body; it’s true that his daughter’s gender wasn’t doing her any favors.The real scourge of higher education isn’t affirmative action, but wealthy families who will pay any price to prioritize their own children and keep their family’s elite status alive.So whenever another college admissions scandal blows through the news — as it has this week, with the exposure of a massive college admissions scam involving celebrities and CEOs cheating and bribing their way into admissions acceptances for their children — I think about my brief stint as a college admissions counselor and am filled with rage and sadness anew.He came up with a fictional white, full-pay kid in a neighboring town and asked if I would reject him in favor of a student of color who otherwise had the same profile.We kept going in circles, even after I tried to tell him that admissions doesn’t work that way.We were all given a certain number of applications and assigned scores based on a system that distributed different weights to different elements of a student’s profile: grades, standardized test scores, curriculum rigor, cultural fit, extracurriculars, etc.But it quickly became clear to me that, even though we were given the space to write specific arguments in favor of or against a certain student, the system we used for determining eligibility for admittance was breathtakingly inadequate, unequal, and dehumanizing.Because, as Adam Serwer of the Atlantic tweeted, it’s apparently of vital importance “that rich people buy their way into the Ivy League the old fashioned way.”It isn’t news that the wealthy hold undue influence over the college admissions process.Pro Publica editor Daniel Golden wrote a book about it all the way back in 2006’s The Price of Admission (which included details about Jared Kushner’s curious acceptance into Harvard).But by the time my contract was up and I’d helped assemble the next year’s class — not only seeing how the sausage was made, but sticking my hands right there in the meaty mess of it — I was deeply disillusioned about my college, the liberal arts, and, frankly, the entire US education system at large.I saw firsthand how colleges and well-intentioned parents alike can play a crucial role in perpetuating inequity in higher education by prioritizing the acceptance of white, wealthy, and male students to meet their bottom line.