Troy: Can elitism and access coexist?

When I was 13, after several years of intensive preparation, I was offered scholarships to several of the top independent schools in the city – among them, my number one choice. Though I took pride in knowing my hard work paid off, at the very last minute, I declined the scholarships – disappointing many advisors who had become deeply invested in my academic journey over the years. Many could not understand how I could turn down such a wonderful opportunity. My rationale was simple – even if I was embarrassed to say it aloud at times: I was insecure about my family’s poverty. By my senior year of high school, I had become more comfortable with being poor and I committed to not making my college decision using the same criterion, and I ultimately selected a NESCAC school, like Jack Anthony. With that in mind, the chapters from The New Education by Cathy Davidson and The Privileged Poor by Anthony Jack resonate very strongly with me.

Anthony’s experiences and research elevate themes I recall from my undergraduate experience – understanding the nuances of both the privileged poor and doubly disadvantaged, to one extent or another. And Davidson’s passion for community colleges is impressive. Reading the anecdotes from President Mellow’s description of the LaGuardia Community College student experience is truly inspiring. Though I must say as a mathematician, I find the supposedly common anecdote taken from the 4-year institution with a dean of students stating, “Look to your left. Look to your right. Only one of you will be walking through graduation.” to be a little funny. It is  difficult to believe that, somehow, these same 4-year institutions the author previously mentioned being so concerned with their reputations expect to have a 33% graduation rate. Additionally, at one point, preceded by a mention of the lower acceptance rate from 2-year colleges than secondary schools to 4-year colleges,  the author states, “College for everyone faces formidable obstacles…” This made me wonder how the author defines college because it seems, based on everything that preceded this statement, that community colleges admitted almost all students and opened doors for so many. So, is college for everyone the issue? Or just 4-year college for everyone?

From these readings, the most important takeaways for me are:

  1. Selectivity is key for elitism (numbers do not lie).
  2. Social mobility is a key metric for community colleges, but, in many instances, it is social stability and social standing that are important for many students attending 4-year schools – especially elite ones. Stability and standing can be tough to measure.
  3. Davidson’s refence to mission reputation being the primary goal for 4-year institutions as opposed to student growth for community colleges is interesting.
  4. Community colleges have done an amazing job of creating access, which for many demographics that are underrepresented in higher education, is the biggest obstacle.

2 thoughts on “Troy: Can elitism and access coexist?

  1. Matt Brim

    Troy, I want to amplify one of your ideas. “College” is very much understood to mean a 4-year school, even though half of all college students are at community colleges. And beyond that, in the popular imagination “college” often takes the shape of very wealthy, selective/elite schools. What do we picture when we hear “college,” and why?

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