cover image The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

Anthony P. Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl. New Press, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62097-486-5

In this detailed yet disappointing polemic, a trio of scholars from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce indict elite U.S. colleges for reinforcing income inequality, limiting social mobility, and ensuring “stratification based on race and class.” According to the authors, top-ranked universities seek to “promote their respective interests” rather than “further the common good” through selective admissions policies that favor the children of alumni and donors, rely too much on standardized test scores (which reflect “socio-economic disparities” better than they predict academic performance), and award financial aid to students who don’t need it. Meanwhile, low-income students admitted to “less-selective” institutions receive subpar educations, suffer higher dropout rates, and wind up in “lower-paying rank-and-file” jobs. Though the authors’ indictment of the “market forces” driving stratification is valid, and their discussions of historical developments (including the implementation of the S.A.T. as a screening tool) can be illuminating, their dismissal of the majority of American colleges as “underfunded dropout factories” grates—and reveals their own elitism. The book’s reform proposals, including the worthy idea to extend guaranteed public education from 12 to 14 years, are more conjectures than actionable plans. This well-intentioned critique misses the mark. [em](May) [/em]