Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Price of Admission - Daniel Golden

Daniel Golden is an editor-at-large at Bloomberg News. Previously, he was an education journalist for the Wall Street Journal, where he authored a series of articles on how the admission processes of American elite universities have been corrupted to benefit the rich instead of promoting social mobility. Those articles eventually morphed into The Price of Admission. The idea of having a journalist waving the finger against elite universities in rightist media may seem bizarre at first sight, but that is not the case. As Noam Chomsky said recently when he asserted that the Financial Times is the best newspaper of the World: elites need to be well informed to run the show, even if that means hearing or reading unpleasant truths. 

Throughout the 280 pages of  The Price of Admission, Daniel Golden makes one single point: American elite universities' admission processes entrench privilege instead of fostering meritocracy. Throughout contributions in cash and connections with the country's political elite, wealthy alumni can basically buy slots for their children in the most prestigious universities of the United States. As these universities must also keep some slots for students who qualify for affirmative action policies (i.e., Blacks and Hispanics), poor whites and Asian-Americans have to compete for very few slots. 

Golden's book doesn't deal with the skyrocketing cost of university education ("the next financial bubble", according to some), but it's easy to see how a supply that remains constant or shrinks as more legacies (alumni children) have slots guaranteed in the best schools, and a growing number of applicants can result in higher tuition fees.

The most remarkable thing of the book is the number of people who agreed to speak on- and off-the record with Golden. That's, at the same time, the biggest strength and weakness of the book. It's a strength because first-hand testimonies obviously have a lot of power to the eyes of the reader. But the excess of testimonies make the problem look like anecdotical incidences rather than a systematic issue. Fortunately, Golden has the numbers to support his sources.

Martin Wolff and the Harvard Magazine reviewed the book rather unfavorably, partly pointing out that the problems described by Golden have been there for a long time. That's a mediocre attitude. Many problems have been there for a long time, and that's not a reason for not talking about them and eventually taking action.

Overall, this is a good book, but you don't have to read it. here is a video of Golden talking about the issue for 40 minutes.

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