An hereditary meritocracy

March 2, 2015

An hereditary meritocracy The rich gaming college admissions? Public good in progressive aid stemming from a $1M gift

The fierce competition between universities to build endowments makes doing such favours for alumni enticing. And there is a public-good argument for it: a student who comes with $1m attached can pay for financial aid for many others. But in practice this is not how the system works. While it is true that some elite universities are rich enough to give out a lot of financial support, people who can pay the full whack are still at the centre of the business model for many. Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford sociologist who spent a year working in the admissions office of an unnamed liberal arts college in the north-east, found that the candidate the system most prized was one who could pay full tuition and was just good enough to make one of the higher-profile sports teams but had a strong enough academic record not to eat into the annual allocation reserved for students whose brains work best when encased in a football helmet.