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The College Admissions Scam Is Not the Problem

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Image: Andy / Flickr

It’s not just celebrity moms — middle-class families are guilty too.

News has been dominated this week by the college admissions scam, said to be the largest ever prosecuted in the United States. Although it serves as a stark reminder that wealthy families have the means to cheat their way to further privilege, the problem goes far beyond celebrity moms.

As Richard V. Reeves argues, it is closer to the top 20 percent of Americans who are perpetuating inequality—a fact that our obsession with “the 1 percent” obscures. Nowhere is this clearer than in college admissions, where middle-class families hide test prep and private tutoring behind the language of “meritocracy” and hard work, a philosophy that the essays in today’s reading list interrogate.

—Rosie Gillies



How America’s Top 20 Percent Perpetuates Inequality
by Richard V. Reeves

“The popular obsession with the top 1 percent allows the upper middle class to convince ourselves we are in the same boat as the rest of America; but it is not true.”

• • •

It’s The Gap, Stupid
by Archon Fung

“A true reckoning requires acknowledging that a larger group of people than the 1 percent have benefitted from, and perpetrated, American inequality—primarily, college-educated professionals.”

• • •

Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong on Immigrant Success
by Stephen Steinberg

“Chua and Rubenfeld invoke an idea that justifies entrenched systems of social stratification: that success comes to the culturally deserving.”

• • •

A Brown v. Board for Higher Ed 
by Marshall Steinbaum

“Student debt is especially onerous for racial minorities, as the current system relegates those with the least family and community resources to the worst higher education institutions, exacerbating inequality.”

• • •

What Statistics Can’t Tell Us About Affirmative Action
by Andrew Gelman, Sharad Goel, and Daniel E. Ho

“Harvard’s preference for legacy students is intended to encourage donations, not to curb admission of racial minorities. Nevertheless, favoring legacies disproportionately benefits white applicants while leaving less space for students of color.”

• • •

What SAT Critics Miss
by Jeffrey Aaron Snyder

“Attacking standardized testing as the primary obstacle to more diverse student bodies ignores the much more significant racial and economic disparitiesthat are deeply entrenched in our educational system, starting in kindergarten.”

• • •

The Future of Affirmative Action
a forum with Susan Sturm, Lani Guinier, Howard Gardener, and more.

“The present system measures merit through scores on paper-and-pencil tests which is neither fair nor functional in its distribution of opportunities for admission to higher education, entry-level hiring, and job promotion.”

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