The Deepening Caste System in Higher Ed: Admissions to Elite Institutions

In several previous posts under this title, I have focused on the rapidly widening gap between administrative compensation and faculty compensation, as well as on the compensation received by “celebrity” visiting faculty and adjunct faculty.

In other posts, I have written about how things being packaged as “innovations,” such as MOOCs, will widen the gap between the kind of education that can be afforded by the most affluent Americans and the kind of education afforded to all other Americans.

Here I would like to combine both of those kinds of focuses and present some startling numbers on admission applications and acceptance to elite universities. The numbers come from an article written by Alan Katzman for Business Insider, “Why Ivy League Admission Officers Have No Choice but to Google College Applicants” [].

In 2012, there were 3.2 million graduates from 43,300 American high schools (30,000 public, 11,850 private, and 1,450 Catholic).

So, those high produced 43,300 valedictorians and salutatorians, and 320,000 students finished in the top 10% of their classes.

For 2013, the eight Ivy League schools admitted 14,000 freshmen from an applicant pool of 250,000.

Comparable institutions were comparably selective. Stanford received 38,800 applications and accepted 5.69% or just over 2,200. The University of Chicago received 30,300 applications and accepted 8.8% or just over 2,650. Vanderbilt received 31,000 applications and accepted 11.97% or just over 3700.

And the number of applicants to elite institutions continues to increase, in some instances very dramatically. The University of Southern California received 47,000 applications, an increase of more than 10,000 or almost 22% over 2010.

Since about 70% of the applications to elite institutions are deemed worthy of serious consideration, the demands on admissions counselors have also been increasing quite dramatically. In 2005, admissions counselors at elite institutions were reviewing an average of 359 applications annually. By 2011, that number had risen to 622, an increase of almost 58%.

These trends illustrate the deepening perception that some degrees are worth not just much more than others but exponentially more than others.

3 thoughts on “The Deepening Caste System in Higher Ed: Admissions to Elite Institutions

  1. Well, no, it doesn’t illustrate anything of the sort. It illustrates only that many apply to these institutions–it says nothing whatsoever about the value attached to those institutions.

    The most direct way to measure difference in perception of value would be to ask how much various students would be willing to pay–in financial burden assumed, in jobs taken on, in distance from home–to go to one of these “elite” institutions, instead of some other, when they are accepted at both. And the difference in type of students is important: Perhaps a student of wealthy background sees little difference between a $40,000 Elite U. price tag vs. a $20,000 State U. price tag, so the willingness to spend the extra $20,000 is not as significant in showing sense of valuation, as that of a student of more moderate background choosing the net price (after financial aid) of $10,000 at State instead of $15,000 at Elite (or vice versa). And maybe staying within driving distance of home is worth more to some students than others.

    Or, in indirect measure of students’ perceptions, we could ask parents–or employers–how much they value Elite vs. State on the graduate’s diploma; but that’s unlikely to be anything very quantifiable (“prefer” vs. “greatly prefer” on a Likert scale).

    Exponentially more valuable as opposed to just much more? I’m not coming up with a measure for that.

  2. Is there a way to find out to what extent these numbers measure the same kids, applying to multiple schools? I seem to remember reading that many students, and probably in particular the ones bound for elite schools, are applying to many more different schools than they used to.

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