April 4th, 2013
08:35 AM ET

The thin-envelope crisis

By Fareed Zakaria

It's time for the fat and thin envelopes–the month when colleges across the U.S. send out admission and rejection notices to well over a million high school seniors. For all the problems with its elementary and secondary schools, American higher education remains the envy of the world. It has been the nation's greatest path to social and economic mobility, sorting and rewarding talented kids from any and all backgrounds. But there are broad changes taking place at U.S. universities that are moving them away from an emphasis on merit and achievement and toward offering a privileged experience for an already privileged group.

State universities–once the highways of advancement for the middle class–have been utterly transformed under the pressure of rising costs and falling government support. A new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, shows how some state schools have established a "party pathway," admitting more and more rich out-of-state kids who can afford hefty tuition bills but are middling students. These cash cows are given special attention through easy majors, lax grading, social opportunities and luxurious dorms. That's bad for the bright low-income students, who are on what the book's authors, Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton, call the mobility pathway. They are neglected and burdened by college debt and fail in significant numbers.

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Topics: Education

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Muin

    I heard so many times that politics is a but it seems like a short game to me because politicians seem to focus on census politics instead of the whole big picture stuff.

    April 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Reply

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