letter to the editor

My letter to the editor re: Ross Douthat’s column (“The Roots of White Anxiety“) was published in today’s New York Times. Because they cap you at 120 words, a few things I didn’t get to say:

-Among the disadvantages that lower-income White students face in accessing elite institutions that Douthat did not list: a greater likelihood of attending a poorly resourced high school without a college-going culture (Pat McDonough’s Choosing Colleges does a great job of showing how the organizational culture of a high school, which is largely driven by social class, affects this), being more likely to have a non-college going habitus (or at least a habitus that is not inclined towards attending an elite institution and potentially racking up 100K in debt…once again, Pat’s book explains this concept in more detail, Annette Lareau’s excellent Unequal Childhoods also documents how class dispositions affect child-rearing/habitus from an early age), certainly being less likely to be a legacy applicant.

-Another barrier: Policies that elite institutions use such as early decision which basically serve as “affirmative action” for rich White applicants. Because early decision is binding, applicants who know that they can attend regardless of the offered financial aid package make up the vast, vast majority of this book. (Black, Latino/a, and Asian American applicants are all less likely to apply early, meaning that this pool is not only wealthier, but made up of wealthier Whites) Christopher Avery‘s work shows that being admitted through early decision is the same as basically a 100 pt boost on the SAT, so it’s basically a self-sorting system where (mostly rich, White) applicants who know they can pay full price have the benefit of being admitted in what tends to be a less competitive pool. Kevin Eagan and I have a paper coming out in Teachers College Record where we document that even when you control for high school resources and everything else under the sun, the strongest predictor of a student being admitted through an early admissions program is…being a recipient of private college counseling. Which takes $$$. Yes, the reproduction of social inequality is alive and well at the application stage, although most of the “sorting” action between the haves and have-nots happens way before students even apply to college.

-If you click on the Holy and the Ivy article I mention in my letter, you’ll see that the resurgence of evangelicalism at these institutions is being driven in part by Asian Americans. (Not to say that Asian Americans are only at elite institutions, over 40% enrolled in undergraduate higher education at any given time are attending community colleges…I’m too lazy to google the Chronicle Almanac, but you can find it there…if you’re interested in learning more about the Asian American evangelical presence in elite institutions, Rebecca Kim’s book “God’s Whiz Kids” is probably the most comprehensive study out there) But White evangelicals are alive and kickin’ at these schools, as this Times article from 2005 documents.

-Side note: There’s some interesting recent research on how evangelical faith tends to grow stronger among students attending private non-sectarian or public institutions (idea that having your faith challenged by all them secular heathens makes it stronger)

-Interestingly, a good chunk of these smart White non-wealthy Christian Red State kids may be more attracted to schools like Patrick Henry, Baylor, Calvin College, Taylor, etc. So I doubt they’re being driven away en masse by admissions officers @elite, non-sectarian institutions (and who says that being a leader of FFA or ROTC makes you a Christian?), there are also some self-selection dynamics of where these students go. Or like most smart non-wealthy kids period who get sticker shock at the idea of a $160K price tag, they’re more likely to attend a state institution or even a regional campus. (even if there’s financial aid available, there’s a tendency for low-income students to be strongly debt-adverse, and no wonder)

-To summarize, there are a boatload of factors that influence why low-income White students are less likely to apply to elite institutions and even why they are disadvantaged in the process when they do apply…but systemic bias against Christians is likely not among the causes.

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One response to this post.

  1. [...] her personal blog, Julie goes into much more detail about factors that affect college admissions for lower-income white students and trends among evangelical [...]

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