June 19, 2023
It is an open secret that the most selective U.S. colleges largely admit the children of the wealthy. Graduates of these colleges go on to be greatly overrepresented among the ranks of the economic and political elite. It is a system that perpetuates class hierarchy within and across generations.
Public shaming will do little to change it. To paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is difficult to get an institution to understand something when its endowment depends upon not understanding it.
Instead, Congress should require selective colleges to set their admissions requirements with Department of Education oversight. Each college would be free to choose its own admissions criteria, but these criteria would have to satisfy a federal standard of equal opportunity.
Congress has long imposed such a requirement on another set of elite institutions: banks. The Community Reinvestment Act requires banks — in partnership with their federal regulator — to “meet the credit needs of the local communities” in which they do business.
Selective colleges should be required to meet the educational needs of students from working and middle-class families.