"What I conclude from this study is the Ivy League doesn’t have low-income students because it doesn’t want low-income students."

Great Divide

If you need more evidence that the world is stacked up against regular folks, a team of Harvard University economists have found that elite colleges discriminate against students from middle and lower income brackets, while preferring applicants from the upper crust of society — even when academic qualifications are equal.

This study comes as the US Department of Education has just kickstarted an investigation into Harvard's increasingly controversial legacy admissions, opening a new front in the complex battle over access to higher education.

The study from the Harvard group Opportunity Insights lays it out starkly: even with the same test scores, applicants from the top 1 percent of the economic bracket were 34 percent more likely to be admitted into an elite college, and applicants from the top 0.1 percent, the most rarified of the elite, were even more likely to get that fat acceptance letter.

Middle class students got into elite colleges below the average admittance rate, while students in lower income brackets get accepted at a higher rate than average but still constitute a small overall proportion of students.

"What I conclude from this study is the Ivy League doesn’t have low-income students because it doesn’t want low-income students," Harvard economist Susan Dynarski, who was not involved in the study, told the New York Times.

Country Club

While focusing on eight Ivy League schools, researchers studied data drawn from college attendance records and income tax numbers between 1999 to 2015, along with test score data from 2001 to 2015.

The study says that students from high-income families are admitted at a higher rate due to being legacy admissions — a polite name for children of alumni — as well as higher ratings on non-academic attributes such as extracurricular activities and sports recruitment. As the NYT pointed out, rich kids are "more likely to play sports, especially more exclusive sports played at certain colleges, like rowing and fencing."

These numbers matter because Ivy League alumni are overrepresented among leadership positions in government and corporations, as well as the top income brackets of the United States. From those airy heights, these overwhelmingly white elites are making major decisions for a far more diverse country of largely middle class and low income Americans.

Harvard economist Raj Chetty, one of the co-authors of the study, told the NYT that given the data, these Ivy League schools could stand to make an effort in changing their admissions policies to diversify the background of the nation's elite.

"Are these highly selective private colleges in America taking kids from very high-income, influential families and basically channeling them to remain at the top in the next generation?" Chetty asked. "Flipping that question on its head, could we potentially diversify who’s in a position of leadership in our society by changing who is admitted?"

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