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Thursday, March 18, 2021


I recently read The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America by Anthony Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, & Jeff Strohl (2020).

 My top takeaways:

- Educational separation and sorting, by race and class, begins in kindergarten.

- College admissions and IQ standardized tests are inherently skewed to disfavor the non-privileged.

- “Enrollment management” processes used at elite universities ensure access for the wealthy and well-connected, at the expense of all others.

- Financial aid support in higher education is frequently directed (or re-directed) to those that need it the least.

- The high school diploma is no longer a harbinger of lifelong economic security.

- Bachelor’s degree owners have been rising out of the middle class into the highest-earning 30% while those with only a high school diploma have been dropping into the bottom 30%.

- Bachelor’s degree possessors can expect to earn about $1 Million more dollars over a working lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. (That’s a whole lot of iTune purchases!)

- A quality education can, and should, serve as the “social glue” that mends societal divisions.

- High school, college, and career should be treated as ONE system, not three distinct ones. 

- “College” should represent a pathway to security and contribution, not a codification of prestige.

- Social forces exist in six types of mechanisms: 

1) Cognitive mechanisms, causing us to inaccurately judge and categorize each other 

2) Spatial mechanisms, segregating us into very different living conditions 

3) Market mechanisms, leaving the disadvantaged disproportionately unlikely to benefit from economic change 

4) Policy mechanisms, via government and/or other entities, having the effect of increasing inequality 

5) Cultural mechanisms, which influence our thinking/behavior as we adapt to our distinct circumstances 

6) Educational mechanisms, which tend to replicate disadvantage generationally.


My favorite quotes:

 “In a seminal paper on the industry, the late Gordon Winston, a Williams College economist, described higher education as a place ‘in which very different educational quality is produced in very different schools at very different cost and sold at very different prices—gross and net—to students with very different input characteristics who get very different subsidies and are often selected from very long queues of applicants, leaving a lot of unsatisfied demand.’” (p. 62)   


“We currently set aside seats in the top colleges for students who already have the most advantages—the equivalent of reserving beds in the best hospitals for the healthiest people.” (p. 196)  


The authors of this book did an excellent job of pulling together data, identifying from that data a compelling societal need, and making a sound argument for change.


The only “gap” I detected in their argument was the insinuation that “college” represents a means to an end, rather than an accelerator of a lifetime of self-directed, disciplined, and ongoing learning.  


When we stop learning, we start dying.


A very good book, and one that’ll bump your thinking about how we can do better.

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