Accumulation of opportunities at an elite private university William M. Brito October 13, 2021 Private University Atlantic just posted an interview with Princeton Chairman Christopher Eisgruber with the deliberately provocative title “Should Princeton Exist?” “ The author of the article, Emma Green, does not throw soft balls. She points out that Princeton has an endowment of about $ 3.2 million for each of its 8,200 students – the highest ratio of any university in the United States. And yet Princeton doesn’t do particularly well on metrics that should matter, such as measures of social mobility or of students eligible for Pell Grant or transferring to community college. She points out that to a large extent Princeton remains what it was: a school for the privileged, with nearly 40 percent of its students coming from families able to pay the full price of the sticker. Eisgruber’s defense of his university is predictable and utterly stereotypical: that his student body has diversified over time and that his financial aid program is exceptionally generous. But Eisgruber’s basic argument is that it is worth investing very aggressively in exceptional human talent. “The idea of a place like Princeton,” he writes, “is that you can identify young people who have extraordinary talent and will benefit from an intensive academic experience.” I only wish the interviewer had done more to keep Eisgruber’s feet in the fire. Is it really true that Princeton’s talented undergraduates in fact make an inordinate contribution to science, medicine, literature, journalism, and other areas of social value? Considering Princeton’s immense wealth, why isn’t it doing much more to serve a much larger number of particularly talented undergraduates? Why hasn’t Princeton put in place extension programs comparable to, say, Harvard’s? Currently, Princeton Online advertises 25 courses. It also offers 16 other courses on Coursera and edX, but without any certification and without the ability to grade homework and homework. There are plenty of ways Princeton can serve more students – and employ more PhD students in the process. It could significantly expand its reach. It could enroll undergraduates all year round. It could limit residency in on-campus housing to two years. He could open satellite campuses. It could offer credit programs online or in a hybrid format. Why not? Well, I suspect the answer is obvious. The school does not want to dilute its brand. This is what Richard V. Reeves of the Brookings Institution calls “the hoarding of opportunity”. In too many cases, the primary goal of undergraduate education in the most elitist, resource-rich, and scarce institutions is less to train geniuses who will make major and lasting contributions to the natural and social sciences or the sciences. human beings, but rather to produce economic and political elites. This is a process encouraged by alumni donations, foundations, higher education evaluations, attention from journalists, and institutions’ own positioning strategies. Some of these institutions try to (modestly) share their wealth and open doors. By all accounts, Princeton does less. There may have been a time when it could be argued that institutions like Princeton were concentrating the expertise of the academy, at least at the faculty level. But at least in my field of study, American history, the passing (through death and retirement) of a generation of academics who dominated the field -Bernard Bailyn, David Brion Davis, David Donald, Eric Foner , John Hope Franklin, George Fredrickson, Kenneth Jackson, James McPherson, Edmund Morgan, C. Vann Woodward and others) has meant that preeminence is no longer associated with Ivy institutions anymore. Indeed, even at the height of these institutions, the wealth was much more dispersed than conventional wisdom assumed. Today, leading scholars are even more widely distributed and are more likely to be found at R1 than at Ivies and their equivalents. In other words, it is not at all clear why some researchers should be granted ridiculously light teaching loads and privileged access to the most prestigious scholarships and other forms of research support. As the great sociologist of higher education, Steven Brint, demonstrated, “the total societal contribution of public research universities, measured by the development of human capital and research publications, is greater than that of private universities”. Whether it is the number and diversity of students served, the publication of high impact scholarships or the creation of patents, public R1s far exceed private research universities. Moreover, the diversification of the teaching staff does not rely on the handfuls of colored doctors among the private elites, but on the much larger number produced elsewhere. During the 1990s, I was very fortunate to help form a cohort of black PhD students at the University of Houston who pursued impressive careers in Arkansas, UMass Amherst, Texas A&M and d other leading institutions. The highly layered, hierarchical pyramid structure of American higher education is not the only viable model. In this context, it is worth looking to our neighbor to the north, where the main Canadian universities welcome around ten times more students than our best-known private research universities and where there is much more equity in terms of status and resources across the higher education ecosystem. . Please don’t confuse my complaints with inappropriate pseudo-populism. I am not opposed to an elite education that invests in talent. And I’m certainly in favor of institutions that compete to attract the best faculty talent and that spend heavily on the liberal arts. But there is something obscene these days with a resource-rich university treating itself like a walled garden and racking up its enormous resources for a tiny student body. Just compare Princeton to MIT. MIT’s OpenCourseware initiative has made almost all of its course content available for free. Its MOOCs, unlike those at Princeton, offer certificates and other university degrees. And its societal contributions are particularly tangible. The words that another Atlantic contributor used to describe Manhattan’s highly selective private schools strikes me as about. One of my favorite writers, Caitlin Flanagan, wrote: “Elite schools create rights, reinforce inequalities, and then claim to be engines of social change. It seems fair to me. It is time for Princeton to look in the mirror and use its resources to serve society more broadly. Or, I’m sure, a public judgment awaits us. Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin Related posts: The Liberty Institute at UT Austin? 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