Elite universities pride themselves on their efforts to accept and encourage economically poor students at their schools. Students from low-income families do benefit from these efforts to diversify student population at highly selective universities; however, Harvard professor Anthony Abraham Jack’s The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students introduces readers to the disturbing limitations of such admissions policies. Read the interview by Sean Illing: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/17/18647250/privileged-poor-university-admissions-anthony-abraham-jack

“My research shows that half of the lower-income black students and one-third of the lower-income Latinx students at elite colleges actually graduate from boarding, day, and preparatory high schools.

“So these people may be economically disadvantaged, but they’ve had the social, cultural, and academic experiences of the top 1 percent. They went to school with the children of millionaires and billionaires. They studied abroad in high school. They had access to amazing resources. They were taught more often by PhDs than their lower-income peers from their neighborhoods.”

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Jack (pictured above) wants us to remember the many poor students who are left behind by this process. Sure, those “privileged poor” students need and benefit from attending elite schools, but the less educationally fortunate students are largely left out in the cold when it comes to admission to such colleges.

As always, culture matters. The immersion into academic culture and the journey into a different social class that can happen at a prep school become turning points, game-changers, for the economically disadvantaged students privileged to attend those schools. They gain “soft skills” or advantages that make their transition to an Ivy League school far less alienating that it is for their peers who attend public schools in their neighborhoods.

Thank you, Professor Jack, for taking a closer look at these efforts to help. As they say, God and the devil always are in the details.

Changing policies and practices could make a difference, but, as the interviewed author explains, the problem is more about those individuals left behind. Next week, we’ll look at ways to help the unprivileged poor. These efforts involve culture too. And they can become powerful turning points. Spoiler Alert: as often is the case, good things come from community colleges.


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on nedbachus.com. City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.