Higher education

Elite universities go low cost

Wash U and Stanford have joined Harvard in loosening up the endowment pocketbooks to provide grants for students of middle-class families to attend for free or a least close to it.

Besides the obvious benefit of helping more students attend, I think this could have long-reaching benefits. Financial aid is a confusing, messy business. Yes, students can get it, but they don't know how much until they apply. This way lower middle-class families can aspire to send their kids to elite universities without worrying as much about money. The finances won't keep them from even dreaming.

❝We are concerned about assuring that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to study here," said Chancellor Mark Wrighton. "We think this policy will encourage people who have modest circumstances to apply.❞

This news should be heralded in every 8th grade high school planning session in every district, including SLPS. I would put up flyers in every guidance office throughout the state. Heck, I would start younger. I would make sure to mention it at every opportunity in the elementary schools.

Elite universities are becoming a little less aristocratic.

Daddy, can you work for Chrysler so I can go to Yale?

In her blog post Poor Kids Have It Easy, EduWonkette blasted Michele Hernandez's Acing the College Application (reviewed in the WSJ) for saying that kids from poor or working class backgrounds have an easier time getting accepted into Ivy League schools.

❝The cat's out of the bag, folks. Poor kids have the life and coast right into selective schools, according to a new book [...] Is she for real?❞

Eduwonkette, being Eduwonkette, provides great figures and studies to back up her indignation. I'll go a different route.

❝Best case: Neither of your parents attended college at all, your father is a factory worker, and your mom is on disability. . . . Worst case: Your father went to Yale as an undergraduate and then Harvard Business School and is now an investment banker and your mom went to Brown, holds a Ph.D. in chemistry and works as a research chemist.❞

Locally, if "best case" parents are factory workers that student might attend Fox, Hazelwood or a similar district. The district isn't losing accreditation but is isn't an Ivy League feeder either. Since those parents didn't attend college, they may support their child's schooling but have probably left the responsibility up to the school.

The "worst case" student probably attended Clayton or Ladue if public or MICDS or Burroughs if private. Those are all Ivy League feeders with the private schools being on WSJ's list of top 50 feeder schools. That student also probably had tutors or classes in the summer starting in elementary school, not so much to feed a resume but to enrich. Language immersion classes are popular as are courses at the Gifted Resource Council. If the parents thought math facts were not stressed enough, they probably enrolled the student in Kumon. Home libraries are large, and educational kits and projects abound. All this is just in elementary school.

Go back even further. Say the "best case" student is a transfer student and is able to go to the same public county school as the "worst case." Unfortunately, she'll come into K already at a disadvantage. The other kid has had a high quality preschool, has traveled abroad, been taken to lots of cultural events such as the symphony, participated in a children's opera and already knows how to read. The school will do everything it can, but it can't make up completely for the enriched home life.

Yes, obviously some kids overcome odds, but there is a reason for the statistics favoring the upper middle class and wealthy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would probably buy Hernandez's book for my kids. (I would NOT, however, buy Elizabeth Wissner-Gross's What High Schools Don't Tell You, the other book reviewed by the WSJ. Recommending students only write positive puff pieces on school activities if they want to be a journalist? Blech.)